Google data censorship ‘should be limited to EU’

Written by Hannah McGrath

Google should be able to ringfence the “right to be forgotten” to searches made in the European Union, the advocate general has found in a preliminary opinion over a French fine.

The internet search giant welcomed the opinion advanced by Maciej Szpunar, the advocate general and top advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which stated that Google and other search engines should only be required to delist sensitive information about individuals which appears in searches made in the EU - not the rest of the world.

The right to be forgotten, which enables citizens of European Union countries to ask search engines to delist information about them in links to sites, was established in a landmark ruling in 2014.

The controversial policy has raised questions in the debate over the balance between an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know. It has also prompted a debate over whether EU rules over internet data and privacy should extend globally.

Google was fined by CNIL, France’s data protection authority, in 2016 after the regulator said the right to privacy should extend to global search data, regardless of where a search for the individual’s name is made – meaning that searches from outside the EU would still show information about EU citizens who had requested deletion.

Google is challenging the fine at the ECJ, with a result expected within the next six months.

The Luxemburg-based court tends to respect the opinion of its advocate general in such cases, so the publication of his preliminary opinion this week has been widely seen as a positive step for Google’s argument in the ongoing legal battle against France’s regulator.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99 percent effectiveness,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s senior privacy counsel, said in comments reported by Reuters.

At present, Google uses geolocation to ensure that links to searches on EU citizens are delisted within the EU, as well as using ‘geoblocking’ on non-EU sites, when an internet user is accessing these sites from within the country where the person concerned by the information is also based.

Google has reportedly received 2.9 million requests to delete links under the right to be forgotten. However, under rules issued by the ECJ, it is for search engines to reach their own decisions on the balance between the right to privacy and the legitimate public interest in each case.