Legal News | Google Under No Obligation To Remove Sensitive Information

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled yesterday (June 25) that Google is not obliged to delete content from search engine results, even when it damages an individual’s reputation.

In a long-running case between the internet giant and the Spanish Data Protection Agency, the ECJ judges ruled that data protection authorities cannot force search engines to block search results linking to legal content, saying that requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression and ”would amount to censorship.”

The case had been referred from the Spanish courts after a Spaniard who googled himself found information about him that referred to non-payment of debts from 15 years earlier.

He claimed that this should be removed from the search results, as the information could damage his reputation and was out of date, as the debts had subsequently been paid. A top court in Spain agreed and the case was referred to the ECJ last year.

However, Niilo Jääskinen, an Advocate General of the ECJ argued in Google’s favour, saying that, while publishers are responsible for the information they put online, search engines have no control over the information posted by others.

The court is not bound by the opinion of the Advocate General but the majority of judges follow such recommendations. Having already been running more than a year, the case is not due to end before the end of 2013.

Google’s own view is that people should not be prevented from finding out about the history of others and in a blog post on the result on Google’s European policy site, William Echikson, Head of Free Expression, EMEA for Google said that the Internet has allowed unprecedented access to information and argued that in order to achieve all its social, cultural and economic benefits, it must be kept free and open.

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Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London