European Court says ‘Right to be Forgotten’ by Google Should Apply Only in EU

Maciej Szpunar, ECJ
Maciej Szpunar, ECJ

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) sitting in Kirchberg, Luxembourg, has said in its preliminary opinion that the decision in the Google’s “right to be forgotten” case should apply only in Europe and  should not be enforceable globally

According to the court’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, “The controversial power, requiring search engines to prevent access to material on the internet, should be enforceable only in the EU and not worldwide.”

In his opinion, the advocate general said the right to be forgotten must be balanced against other “fundamental rights”, such as the right to data protection, privacy and the legitimate public interest in accessing information.

Szpunar said if worldwide “de-referencing” was allowed, EU authorities would not be able to determine a right to receive information or balance it against other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy.

The case related to a dispute between Google and France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL), with a number of UK and international free speech organisations saying that extending the power could encourage censorship in countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The case arose after CNIL fined Google €100,000 for failing to remove an individual’s name from all of its domains across the internet. Google only imposed its “geo-blocking” measures on domains accessible from EU states. Google then appealed to the ECJ in Luxembourg to have the fine annulled.

In his decision, the advocate general found for Google, declaring “the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine”. It only had to “ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU”.

The UK-based free speech organisation Article 19 led an intervention by eight non-governmental organisations, which warned of the potential harm to internet users’ rights to access information if Google lost the case.

Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, said: “We welcome Advocate General Szpunar’s opinion that the CJEU should place limits on the scope of de-referencing carried out by search engines.

“European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see. They should only be able to de-list websites within their country’s jurisdiction, and should balance the rights of both privacy and free speech when making that decision.

“We hope that the CJEU will follow Szpunar’s opinion when it issues its judgment in this case later this year. The court must limit the scope of the ‘right to be forgotten’ in order to protect global freedom of expression and prevent Europe from setting a precedent for censorship that could be exploited by other countries.”