The right to be forgotten

Europe’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the EU, has confirmed that the right to be forgotten doesn’t extend outside the territory of the EU.

In the 2014 case of Google Spain, the EU’s highest court first decided that there was a right to be forgotten. It is a right to have an article, video or photograph de-linked from a search engine if it is no longer relevant. The article, video or photograph will still exist on the original webpage but will no longer appear through search engines like Google.

The Google Spain case concerned a Spanish lawyer who got into debt in the 1990s. His home was auctioned off to recover the debt. He was now in better position but a Google search of his name would result in a link to the 1990s article about his home being auctioned off and the debt. The EU court ordered that the article should be hidden from the search results and the right to be forgotten came into existence.

Recent ruling

The recent case arose out of a dispute between the French data protection authority and Google France. In 2015, the French authority ordered that the technology company remove all links to information in respect of a particular individual, on a global basis. Google had introduced a geo-blocking feature which would prevent users within the EU seeing the information but the French authority said that this wasn’t sufficient and ordered global removal. The case was brought in the French courts and then it was referred to the EU court. The EU court was asked whether the right to be forgotten extended outside the EU.

The case created a huge controversy. Civil liberty and human rights groups claimed that global removal orders could be used by authoritarian regimes outside Europe to hide human rights abuses from the world. Google successfully argued this point in court.

The EU court said that data protection rights were not absolute. These rights had to be balanced against other rights such as freedom of information. The court ruled that the right to be forgotten does not extend outside the territories of the EU bloc.