Google readies to fight 'right to be forgotten' cases in European Court of Justice

Global tech giant Google has outlined concerns for two 'right to be forgotten' cases appearing in the European Court of Justice and signalled its intention to strongly fight the cases, writes Cillian Sherlock.

Google users may be familiar with disclaimers appearing at the bottom of search results informing them that 'some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe'.

Under the right to be forgotten, Europeans can request the removal of outdated or irrelevant information about themselves from search results from their name.

Google's Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker said the company has raised concerns about the ruling "from the outset" but has "still worked hard to comply [...] conscientiously and in consultation with Data Protection Authorities".

The company today said it has delisted 800,000 search results from a total of almost two million requests.

Google said it has "taken great care" not to erase any results that are clearly in the public interest, per the European Court of Justice's direction.

In a post published on Google's blog, Walker outlines two cases which the company believes will threaten the public's right to know important information in the public interest, for example a public figure's criminal record.

The first case, Walker says, involves four individuals who can't be named and who present a "simple argument" as follows:

"European law protects sensitive personal data; sensitive personal data includes information about your political beliefs or your criminal record; so all mentions of criminality or political affiliation should automatically be purged from search results, without any consideration of public interest."

Google argues that if Europe's highest court accepts this argument "it would give carte blanche to people who might wish to use privacy laws to hide information of public interest".

"This would effectively erase the public’s right to know important information about people who represent them in society or provide them services," Walker writes.

In the second case, the European Court of Justice must decide whether Google should enforce the right to be forgotten in every country in the world.

Google argues, citing support from human rights and media organisations including Wikimedia, that this "runs contrary to the basic principles of international law" that no one country can impose its rules on another.

"Adopting such a rule would encourage other countries, including less democratic regimes, to try to impose their values on citizens in the rest of the world," Walker added.

"We’re speaking out because restricting access to lawful and valuable information is contrary to our mission as a company and keeps us from delivering the comprehensive search service that people expect of us.

"But the threat is much greater than this. These cases represent a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information," he said.

Google said it will argue for a "reasonable interpretation" of the right to be forgotten and for the ability of other countries to set their own laws.

"Up to November 20, European countries and institutions have the chance to make their views known to the Court. And we encourage everyone who cares about public access to information to stand up and fight to preserve it," he concluded.

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