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Right to be forgotten

A Spanish man complained that an auction notice relating to the repossession of his home 16 years ago appeared on Google’s search results and, by doing so, the Internet search giant had infringed his privacy.

The European Commission actually proposed a new law back in 2012 that would grant to each and every individual a “right to be forgotten”. Or, in other words, a right to have their personal information removed from the internet. Easier said than done, I would suggest – particularly if you’re Nigel Farage, with (as at today’s date) almost 54 million webpages referencing his name!

And whilst the proposed law is still meandering its way through the bureaucratic corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg, it has not yet become law in the United Kingdom (or, indeed, in Spain). Indeed, the UK Government has confirmed that it will be looking to opt-out of the “right to be forgotten”.

And hence the European Court of Justice had to decide Mr Gonzalez’s claim based on existing data protection rules. And it did so by applying the third and fifth data protection principles, namely that personal information must be “adequate, relevant … and not kept for longer than is necessary”.

The Court found that the 16-year-old information was, indeed, no longer relevant, and therefore decided against Google. Although stopping short of proclaiming that Mr Gonzalez had a ‘right to be forgotten’, the Court did give a strong indication of where data protection law is heading.

Of course, Google said that they were disappointed by the ruling, and it will have the potential to cause problems for any business that stores or displays personal information on its website – the Court has clarified that a business must ensure the information remains relevant and up-to-date … otherwise it must be removed. Perhaps now is an appropriate time to check each and every page of your website – just in case you have irrelevant or out-of-date personal information contained with historic press releases, photographs or news stories.

But there are two sides to every story. In the other corner, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the judgment was a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans … confirming the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the digital stone age into today’s modern computing world”.

Yes. Quite.

Such increased levels of privacy reflect a decision that the average internet user will welcome. After all, we’re not all egotistical, narcissistic, publicity-seeking, social media addicts … are we?


UPDATE: 30 May 2014

In response to the European Court’s ruling, Google has now published a form to complete if you want to be forgotten.

Google has promised to consider each and every application and, if the request relates to irrelevant or outdated information, and the benefit to the applicant of deleting the link outweighs the public interest in retaining it, then Google has agreed to remove that data from its search results (although, of course, not from the internet entirely – the information will still remain on the original webpage).

Perhaps not surprisingly, more than half the requests received by Google since the ruling are from convicted criminals, asking for the internet search giant to remove links to articles publicising their crimes.

So, if you want to be forgotten by Google, then here’s how to do it: https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_eudpa?product=websearch


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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