18 NGOs file an intervention before France’s highest court on dangers of the ‘right to be forgotten’


Today, 18 expert non-governmental organisations from across the world have filed legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationaleinformatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten”.

In 2014, CNIL ordered Google to remove 21 links from the results of an internet search on the name of a French citizen who claims a “right to be forgotten.”  Google initially removed the links from its French search site (www.google.fr) and other European search sites (such as www.google.ie), but CNIL demanded it go further.  Google then blocked the links from results returned to European users, even when using Google’s non-European sites, including www.google.com. CNIL however demands that when it orders content to be “forgotten” from search results, this decision must be given effect worldwide, meaning that the results must be made unavailable to all users internationally, regardless of where they are accessing internet search engines.  CNIL has also imposed a huge fine on Google, of €100,000.

The 18 NGOs who have filed legal submissions with the Council of State today have grave concerns about CNIL’s approach and its implications for human rights worldwide.  They all specialise in the defence of human rights, the protection of online freedom of expression, and in increasing access to information technology around the world.  The NGOs, and the many people across the world whose rights they protect, rely on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas and information online in order to carry out their important work in protecting human rights internationally. CNIL has unilaterally imposed draconian restrictions on free expression upon all organisations and individuals who use the internet around the world, even imposing a “right to be forgotten” upon countries which do not recognise this principle.  The CNIL ruling causes particularly serious damage to human rights protection in the developing world.  In their submissions, the NGOs urge the Council of State to annul the CNIL’s decision, stating:

“In the developing world, given that some governments are already trying to restrict freedoms on the internet through restrictive local laws, a precedent compelling companies to remove content based on already limiting laws will have the effect of eliminating checks and balances that inhere in international law. Countries such as Pakistan are already making efforts to ensure that certain political and critical content is removed from cyber space and the interveners are concerned that compelling companies to follow restrictive laws will further stymie the right to access to information and free speech. Such a precedent will also mean that dissent within a country can be censored in equal measure internationally.

As a result, the order of the CNIL sets a dangerous precedent, by opening the door for national authorities in other countries to impose global restrictions on freedom of expression through remedies grounded solely in their own domestic law.  The possible race to the bottom is of the utmost concern to the interveners.” 

The legal submissions were drafted by freedom of expression experts Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jude Bunting, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, London, and avocat Thomas Haas, Paris, who acts for the NGOs and filed the submissions with the Council of State.

The decision of the Council of State on Google’s appeal is expected later this year.


Notes for Editors:

  1. The 18 NGOs who have filed submissions are: the Internet Freedom Foundation; the Software Freedom Law Center, India; Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (“CIPESA”); Digital Rights Foundation; Unwanted Witness; Paradigm Initiative ; Association for Progressive Communications; I-Freedom Uganda Network; Jonction; Media Rights Agenda; Sierra Sustainable Technology; Instituto Beta for Internet and Democracy; The League of cyberactivists for democracy, Africtivistes; The Karisma Foundation; Global Voices; the Institute of Technology and Society of Rio; Red enDefensa de losDerechosDigitales; the Center for Information Technology and Development (“CITAD”), Nigeria. Further details of their work are contained in the attached extract from the submissions, in French (pages 3-6 below) and English (pages 7-10 below).
  1. The Council of State is considering an application by Google Inc for the annulment of decision no. 2016-054 of 10th March 2016 by the CNIL. The CNIL in this decision ruled that the delisting process implemented by Google in order to comply with the principles arising from the European Court of Justice’s ruling in oogle  pain    et  oogle Incc     and  arioCoste a on  le on 13th May 2014 was insufficient, imposed a monetary penalty on Google of €100,000 and decided to make its decision public.
  1. Any queries regarding the legal submissions should be directed to Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jude Bunting at Doughty Street Chambers, London, by phone on +442074041313 or by email to gallagher@doughtystreet.co.uk or j.bunting@doughtystreet.co.uk).


  1. The Internet Freedom Foundation defends online freedom, privacy and innovation in India. Through public campaigns, it aims to build and deploy technology to promote freedom on the internet.  It advocates a free and open internet and campaigns against censorship in all its forms. It has also sought to intervene in similar litigation in India on delisting and erasure, taking the unequivocal position that there is no “right to be forgotten” in India, and that direction for delisting would constitution an impermissible restriction on freedom of expression and the public’s right to information, protected by the Constitution of India
  2. The Software Freedom Law Centre (“SFLC.in”) is a New Delhi based not-for-profit organization that provides pro bono legal representation and other law-related services to developers of open source software to further the goal of defending digital civil liberties. SFLC.in has worked extensively on issues of free speech, expression online, and intermediary liability, and has a history of supporting courts on these issues, for example they filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court, which was considering whether to grant certiorari in the case of Google Inc. v Oracle Inc (US Supreme Court ref. 14-410). in has an interest in this matter because the decision of this Court will have a significant effect on the rights of the internet users that SFLC.in represents. More specifically, SFLC.in has an interest in ensuring that limits are maintained on the reach of law so that free speech rights that are facilitated by the internet are not unreasonably and unnecessarily impeded;
  3. Since its inception in 2004, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (“CIPESA”) has positioned itself as the leading centre for research and analysis of information aimed to enable policy makers in east and southern Africa understand international Information and Communications Technology (“ICT”) policy issues. Its overall goals are to develop the capacity of African stakeholders to contribute effectively to international decision-making on ICT and ICT-related products and services; and to build multi-stakeholder policymaking capacity in African countries. In particular, CIPESA focuses on decisionmaking that facilitates the use of ICT in support of development, civic participation and democratic governance;
  4. Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy nongovernmental organization focusing on ICT to support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. Based in Pakistan, the Digital Rights Foundation envisions a place where all people, and especially women, are able to exercise their right of expression without being threatened. It believes that a free internet with access to information and clear privacy policies can encourage such a healthy and productive environment that would eventually help not only women, but the world at large;
  5. Unwanted Witness is a non-governmental organisation based in Uganda. It advises government on internet governance and lobbies for a legal framework that guarantees internet freedom and internet safety. Its work includes the drafting of policy briefs, making shadow reports to relevant human rights bodies to which Uganda is signatory, interfacing between internet actors and government agencies on internet freedom, and also providing legal support to internet users whose work is being threatened. It brings strategic litigation to challenge government actions that threaten the enjoyment of online freedoms in Africa;
  6. Paradigm Initiative is a registered non-for profit organization with core objectives of digital inclusion and digital rights in Nigeria and other African countries of interest. The digital rights mandate of the organization involves working with several stakeholders within the African region on rights-respecting technologies and also pushing for people-inclusive policies in ICT. Paradigm Initiative carries out its work mainly through research reports, stakeholder-dialogues on Internet freedom and policy engagements within the region. Paradigm Initiative is currently working on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490) becoming a law in Nigeria. It is the first long-term policy document to ensure Internet freedom in Africa and second in the world after Brazil’s “Marco Civil.” The bill has reached an advanced stage of becoming law in Nigeria;
  7. The Association for Progressive Communications has 50 member organisations in 36 countries, the majority from developing countries. The vision of its membership is that: “All people have easy and affordable access to a free and open internet to improve their lives and create a more  ust world ”  It works to empower and support organisations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of ICTs to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability.  The Association for Progressive Communications is a participant in high level international ICT policy discussions and was granted category one consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1995.  Its chief operating office is located in Johannesburg, South Africa.
  8. I-Freedom Uganda Network is an organisation that promotes and supports freedom of speech, expression, association, and assembly through technical IT support, research and development of tools and applications that enhance digital security and safety. It is composed of 28 member organizations which can be broadly categorized into three categories; LGBTI organisations, sex workers organisations and mainstream human rights organisations. The network was formed by a number of organisations that came together at the end of January 2012 to fight against the way in which various key stake holders were misusing the Internet to affect the online and offline freedom and rights of a marginalised groups.  These organisations believed that online activity is key to their ability to freely associate, assemble and express themselves freely without any fear of risk and reprisal from state agencies and other dangerous hacking groups.  The Network is therefore particularly interested in freedom of expression and associated assembly rights, as they manifest in online expression.  It is based in Kampala, Uganda.
  9. Jonction is a non-governmental organization, based in Dakar in Senegal, which aims to promote and defend human rights. Founded in 2006, Jonction has conducted a number of advocacy and awareness campaigns on the protection of personal data, privacy and freedom of expression in both Senegal and West Africa. It has a particular focus on the right to privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet.
  10. Media Rights Agenda is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. It was established in 1997 to promote and defend freedom of expression, including media freedom and access to information.  Media Rights Agenda is registered in Nigeria and has Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
  11. Sierra Sustainable Technology is a non-profit and non-governmental organisation that was established in 2007 due to a large number of school children dropping out of education and large-scale unemployment of young people (especially girls).  Its purpose is to  serve as a rights-based organisation that meet the needs of poor and deprived communicates through advocacy and the use of sustainable and communications technology, promoting and protecting the rights and responsibilities of women, youth and children through training, awareness raising and empowerment initiatives.
  12. The Instituto Beta: Internet & Democracy is a Brazilian based non-profit organisation engaged in defending and promoting human rights in the digital environment. Beta’s activities involve the promotion of Internet users rights, the production of Internet culture research and reports, and the organisation of social, cultural and political events and demonstrations aimed at preserving democratic values in cyberspace. Its action focuses on the protection of principles such as of freedom of thought and expression, freedom in Internet access, net neutrality and data protection. Pursuant to these goals, Beta has been accepted to intervene as an amicus curae in two central Brazilian Supreme Court legal cases relating to WhatsApp blocking.
  13. The League of cyberactivists for democracy, Africtivistes, is an association founded in November 2015 and based in Senegal. It has 150 active members in 35 countries in Africa and in the Diaspora.  It brings together committed Africans to contribute to addressing challenges of democratisation and freedom on the African continent through participatory democracy, e-democracy and the effective anchoring of democratic culture in our respective countries. Africtivistes has supported legal petitions to several governments regarding access to the Internet, net neutrality, privacy and online security.  In addition to campaigns, Africtivistes also provides online security training to members, media organisations, and civil society.
  14. The Karisma Foundation was founded in 2003 and is based in Bogotá, Colombia. Its goal is to respond to the opportunities and threats that arise in the context of “technology for development” so as to ensure the exercise of human rights and the promotion of freedom of expression.  Karisma works through activism with multiple perspectives – legal and technological – in coalitions with local, regional and international partners.
  15. Global Voices was founded at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in December 2004. It subsequently became incorporated in the Netherlands as Stichting Global Voices, a nonprofit foundation.  Global Voices is a largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts, and translators.It aims to curate, verify and translate trending news and stories on the Internet, from blogs, independent press and social media in 167 countries.
  16. The Institute of Technology and Society of Rio is a non-profit independent organisation, which is made up of professors and researchers from different academic institutions (such as the Rio de Janeiro State University, Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-Rio), FundaçãoGetulio Vargas, IBMEC, ESPM, MIT Media Lab, and others). Its mission, over the past 14 years, has been to ensure that Brazil and the Global South respond creatively and appropriately to the opportunities provided by technology in the digital age, and that the potential benefits are broadly shared across society.  It is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Global Network of Internet & Society research centers.  Its members have been directly involved in the conception and in the collaborative process of creating the so-called “Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights” (Law no 12965/14).
  17. Red enDefensa de losDerechosDigitales is a non-profit organization in Mexico that defends human rights in the digital environment. It was formed in 2014. It uses research, advocacy and litigation to defend digital rights in Mexico, including the right to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the right of access to knowledge. As part of its work, it has successfully defended online media organizations from Mexico’s data protection decisions ordering the delisting of links to news articles in search engines.  This litigation has included the leading case against Mexico’s data protection authority, which first considered the implementation of the “right to be forgotten” in Mexico.  This case arose in the context of an order to delist news articles that considered corruption in Mexico. Red enDefensa de losDerechosDigitales represented one of the news organizations that published the original news story.
  18. The Center for Information Technology and Development (“CITAD”), Nigeria, is a non-governmental and non-profit organization, established in 1996, that is committed to the use of ICT for the development and promotion of good governance, social justice, peace and sustainable development. It commits to universal access to free, secure, affordable and transparent internet services as a platform for development and cultural expression.  CITAD uses ICT to empower youth and women in particular through access to information, skills and online mentoring opportunities.  It utilises platforms such as social networking, web-to-text interface and tools such as Google alert to provide information that would promote peaceful co-existence.  Its mission is to use ICT to empower citizens for a just and knowledge-based society, anchored in sustainable and balanced development.