Google Only Has to Respect Your 'Right to Be Forgotten' in the EU, Court Says

Google headquarters in London
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Google is not responsible for protecting people’s “right to be forgotten” in any countries outside of the European Union, according to a preliminary opinion from the European court of justice.

The court first ruled in May 2014 that Google must take down links from internet searches of people who request to be removed because EU citizens have a right to be forgotten. The move was messy from the start, as Google got inundated with requests from people who wanted control over what others can find when they are Googled.

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The next year, France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL) insisted Google also remove links for these EU citizens in searches that are made outside of the EU. Namely, CNIL wanted Google to remove those links from Google.com instead of just removing links from European versions of the site, like Google.de and Google.fr. The French privacy regulator fined Google 100,000 euros when the company did not comply.

At the time, a Google spokesperson told Reuters, “as a matter of principle, we disagree with the CNIL’s assertion that it has the authority to control the content that people can access outside France.”

Now the EU court of justice seems to be siding with Google. Advocate general Maciej Szpunar said on Thursday that the right can only apply in the EU. According to a press release from the court, Szpunar believes “the fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought.”

“There is a real risk of reducing freedom of expression to the lowest common denominator across Europe and the world,” Szpunar wrote, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

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In a written statement shared with Gizmodo, Google’s senior privacy counsel Peter Fleischer echoed Szpunar’s sentiment: “Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other [organizations] that have made their views known in this case,”

Fleischer said Google has “worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99% effectiveness.”

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According to the Journal, court decisions usually align with the advocate general’s opinion, though they’re not required to follow his lead. A final decision should arrive in the next few months.

[Court of Justice of the European Union, Guardian]

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About the author

Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo