European Lawyer Says Google Not Responsible For Removing Personal Information In Web Searches
June 25, 2013

European Lawyer Says Google Not Responsible For Removing Personal Information In Web Searches

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

A top lawyer with the European Union (EU) Court of Justice said today Google shouldn’t be responsible for policing what’s online, placing the burden instead on website owners. This doesn’t make Google exempt from EU privacy laws which protect citizens from having their information shared or publicly posted. Instead, it declares the search engine cannot be asked to delete this personal information or police how this information is displayed in a web search.

Niilo Jaaskinen, the EU court’s Advocate General said in a statement that this potential ruling is a setback to Europe’s “Right to be forgotten” policy which is meant to give citizens the power to control their personal data online. Tuesday’s statements make citizens more responsible for their own data and remove the burden of responsibility from the Internet search giant. A final and official ruling on the case is expected later this year.

“A national data protection authority cannot require an Internet search engine service provider to withdraw information from its index,” said Jaaskinen in a statement explaining his opinion, reports Bloomberg.

The EU Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, was asked to give their thoughts on this matter following a case in Spain. There, a Spanish man complained to the Data Protection Agency when he discovered he could still find information about his home which was repossessed in 1998. A local newspaper had written about the repossession and it can still be found today via web search.

The man believes the publicly available information about his house infringed upon his rights to privacy and wanted Google to remove the information from the web.

A Spanish court found in the man’s favor and ordered Google to prevent this kind of information from returning in a web search. Google fought against this decision, saying the ruling would force them to police the Internet and infringe upon the principles of free expression.

In this case and many more like it, the Spanish courts leaned heavily on the “Right to be forgotten” principle which gives European citizens the power over their own data. Under this policy, citizens can ask large companies to remove their personal data from their stores.

Jaaskinen disagrees with the way the Spanish courts are translating this policy, saying the right to be forgotten doesn’t mean all past transgressions are wiped from memory.

The right to be forgotten “does not entitle a person to restrict or terminate dissemination of personal data that he considers to be harmful or contrary to his interests,” said Jaaskinen in a Washington Post interview.

Rather than make Google and other web search companies responsible for what’s found online, Jaaskinen’s said it's up to citizens to ensure the correct information is being used. If they have cause to believe this information is incorrect or being used incorrectly, they have the right to approach the company directly. They cannot, argued Jaaskinen, ask a third company, such as Google, to remove the information from the web.

“This is a good opinion for free expression,” said a Google spokesperson in a statement. “We’re glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress ‘legitimate and legal information’ would amount to censorship.”