Google defamed FF senator, court hears

Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne claims he has been grossly defamed by internet giant Google after it published a picture of convicted solicitor Thomas Byrne alongside the politician’s profile on the Google knowledge graph.

The former TD, who is also a qualified solicitor, said in court documents he was “absolutely shocked to see” his personal details published on a webpage under the name “Thomas Byrne” alongside a photograph of the convicted solicitor.

In the High Court, Mr Byrne secured an interim injunction preventing Google Ireland Ltd from publishing, as part of its Google Knowledge Graph of the Co Meath-based politician, a photograph of the Thomas Byrne recently convicted of theft and fraud offences.

Granting the injunction, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said he was satisfied to grant the interim order, under section 33 of the Defamation Act 2009, restraining publication of the image of Thomas Byrne, convicted solicitor of Walkinstown, Dublin, “as a photo and description” of the Fianna Fail senator, who was a TD for Meath East between 2007 and 2011.

The judge, after granting the injunction against Google, said the matter will come before the court again next Tuesday.

The order was granted on an ex-parte basis, where one side only was represented in court. Earlier this month, a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court found former solicitor Thomas Byrne of Walkinstown Rd, Crumlin, Dublin 12, guilty of 50 theft and fraud charges.

The knowledge graph is designed to enhance Google’s search engine. Its aim is to provide detailed and structured information about a subject or person whose name is typed into the search engine and appears in the form of a summary on the top right-hand corner of the webpage.

Seeking the injunction, Jim O’Callaghan, counsel for Mr Byrne, said it was clear that Google had “made a mistake” and there was no malicious intent. However, Google, despite being contacted by the senator and his lawyers, failed to respond to his complaints or remove the defamatory image.

Google Ireland, with an address in Barrow St, had failed to respond to solicitors letters sent on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr O’Callaghan said.

Mr Byrne, counsel added, had also tried to use the self-correcting mechanism on the Google site to remove the material but to no avail.

In an affidavit, Mr Byrne, of Grange Rath, Colpe, Co Meath, said he was informed by a member of the public last Saturday about the image of the convicted solicitor appearing alongside his profile on the knowledge graph.

He said the publication of this picture is “grossly defamatory of me in that it clearly and unequivocally conveys and publicises to the public a claim which is factually untrue — which is to say I have been found guilty of fraud and theft charges”.

He added that the publication clearly conveyed the meaning, and published to the public, that the image of the convicted Thomas Byrne was a picture of a Fianna Fáil politician elected to the Seanad.

Mr Byrne said he became “very upset” and “extremely concerned about the damaging effect” the publication of the picture of someone with same name as him who had been convicted of fraud offences would have on his reputation and standing as well as his status as a public representative and a qualified solicitor.

He said efforts were made to contact Google in order to have the image removed. It was “now clear to him” that Google, “for whatever administrative or logistical reasons” have not and are not able to remove the image “with the urgency required”. He said he had been left with “no alternative” but to bring a High Court action seeking to have the “grossly defamatory publication” removed.


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