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European Court of Justice: Google Must Respect Internet Users’ ‘Right to Disappear’

(Chris Price)

(Chris Price)

Europe’s highest court has ruled that Internet giant Google can be forced to delete links to certain contested content about individuals on the Web.

Reuters reports the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday that Internet companies can be compelled to remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from search engine results, and that Internet users do indeed have what privacy advocates have called “the right to disappear.”

The ECJ ruled in favor of Mario Costeja González, a Spanish man who challenged the fact that Google searches of his name revealed links to a 1998 article in the newspaper La Vanguardia detailing the repossession of his home.

Under the ruling, national authorities can force Internet companies to comply if they believe that there isn’t enough public interest in the information that individuals seek to have removed from search engine results.

The court’s ruling came as something of a surprise, and it contradicted a previous decision by one of the court’s own senior advisers. In the 2013 opinion, the court’s advocates general asserted that Google and other search engines should not be held responsible for personal information that appears in search results.

“There’s a saying in Spanish: If to resist is to win, I have won by resisting,” Costeja González is quoted in the Wall Street Journal. The Spaniard added that he was fighting to delete information that is an affront to the “dignity, honor and respect of a person, and which doesn’t have any public relevance.”

European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding hailed the court’s decision.

“Companies can no longer hide behind their servers being based in California or anywhere else in the world,” she told Reuters.

But critics of the ruling, including tech companies and some free speech advocates, argue it could have a chilling effect on free expression. The Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft among its many powerful members, told the Wall Street Journal that the ECJ ruling “opens the door to large scale private censorship in Europe.”

“Our concern is it could also be misused by politicians or others with something to hide who could demand to have information taken down,” the group added.

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