European Union adviser sides with Google on 'right to be forgotten' dispute

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai

That's the recommendation of a top legal advisor to the EU's Court of Justice.

Szpunar advised the court to rule in Google's favor in this case, though he said he "does not rule out the possibility that, in certain situations, a search engine operator may be required to take de-referencing actions at the worldwide level".

The French data watchdog had gone to the European Court of Justice to establish whether it could force companies such as Google to de-list search results across the world under the right to be forgotten (RTBF) law. Google and other technology advocates rebutted that allowing the law's scope to expand globally would allow repressive regimes to essentially erase all dissenting online content about them around the world.

France's CNIL data protection authority said it noted the opinion and restated its view that the right to privacy should apply regardless of the geographical origin of the person doing an internet search.

European Court of Justice judges typically follow the advice of the advocate general, usually within two to four months, although they are not bound to do so.

They should accede, as a matter of course, to de-referencing requests, said Szpunar.

The U.S. company has been asked to delete links to 2.9 million websites, after the European Union court effectively put the search engine in charge of deciding what requests to accept.

If it was allowed, "the European Union authorities would not be able to define and determine a right to receive information, let alone balance it against the other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy", a summary (PDF) of the decision said.

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The advocate general on Thursday in that case said that for requests concerning sensitive data, search engine operators "must weigh up, on the one hand, the right to respect for private life" and data protection rights, and "on the other hand, the right of the public to access the information concerned" and the freedom of expression.

The Alphabet Inc. unit now removes such links EU-wide and since 2016 it also restricts access to such information on non-EU Google sites when accessed from the EU country where the person concerned by the information is located - referred to as geo-blocking.

"European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see".

"We hope that the CJEU will follow Szpunar's opinion when it issues its judgment in this case later this year", said Thomas Hughes, the executive director of anti-censorship organization Article 19.

This is made even more hard to weigh up as the public interest in accessing information will vary from one non-EU country to another, and global delisting would prevent people in those states from accessing information.

This case involves the CNIL's refusal to order the removal of links found in searches using individuals' names.

The Right To Be Forgotten applies to a search result that is deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive" and - as of 10 January 2019 - Google had delisted 1.1 million URLs, approving about 44 per cent of requests.

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