A court in France on July 19, 2017 referred a case involving Google, the internet search engine, and a French citizen over the “right to be forgotten” to the European Union Court. The matter in dispute is the question of whether citizens of France can demand that search engine results be removed from the Internet globally, thus effectively limiting what people around the world can read and access online.
Eighteen International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in November 2016 filed a joint voluntary intervention to join Google in its appeal to France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’État) against the decision of La Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés, (CNIL) the French National Commission for Data Protection and Liberties on the right to be forgotten.
The 18 International NGOs filed a joint voluntary intervention, through separate submission, pursuant to the provisions of Article R. 632-1 of the French Code of Administrative Justice.
The intervention which was admitted by Conseil d’État challenged CNIL decision on the grounds that the French approach would create a precedent for governments to force worldwide removal of content which was illegal in their own countries but legal in others.
The NGOs’ intervention brief raised anxiety about the impact of CNIL’s decision on the many people across the world whose rights they protect, and on their ability to do their work.
In 2014, CNIL ordered Google to remove 21 links from the results of an internet search on the name of a French citizen who claimed 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 that it goes further by removing it from other domains. Google thereafter blocked the links from results returned to European users, even when using Google’s non-European sites, including www.google.com.
CNIL however demanded 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 also imposed a huge fine of €100,000 on Google.
The Google appeal aims at supporting its application for the annulment of decision no. 2016-054 of March 10, 2016 in which the CNIL 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 Google Spain SL et Google Inc. c. AEPD and Mario Costeja González on May 13, 2014 was insufficient.
The March 10, 2016 order of the CNIL challenges the protections, rights, and freedoms on which the 18 international NGOs rely. The CNIL’s decision provides that the delisting of public information available on the internet must be effective, “even if it conflicts with foreign rights”.
These international NGOs, are specialists in the defence of human rights, the protection of online freedom of expression, and in increasing access to information technology around the world. They have through their submission expressed their grave concerns about CNIL’s approach and its implications for human rights worldwide stating that the internet has reduced barriers to communication seeing the Internet as an enabler of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression that needs to be protected for everyone.
The interveners aim to strengthen free expression online and to oppose any unnecessary censorship by government and non-state actors on the internet. Their goal is to help make the internet safer and more accessible.