Google should not be forced to remove personal data from internet, says European Court of Justice adviser
Non-binding opinion prompted by dispute between search engine corporation and Spainish data protection agency
Google Glass. The search engine corporation welcomed the decision of European Court of Justice advocate general Niilo Jääskinen on personal data. Photograph: Reuters/Google
In what is likely to be a landmark case for internet regulation, an advisor to the European Court of Justice has said Google should not be forced to remove sensitive personal information that it processes or adhere to a “right to be forgotten”.
Eliminating such data from search engines would amount to censorship, Court of Justice advocate general Niilo Jääskinen said yesterday.
The non-binding opinion was prompted by a dispute between Google and Spain’s Agency for Data Protection (AEPD). The AEPD wanted the California-based search engine giant to remove posts relating to about 200 cases in which individuals were negatively affected. Spain’s high court referred the case to the European Court of Justice.
The advocate general said “requesting search engine providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression of the publisher of the web page”.
He also said that “a right to be forgotten” on the internet was not contained in any existing regulation.
The decision related specifically to the case of Mario Costeja, who owed Spanish authorities about €1,700 in social security payments in 1998. At the time, La Vanguardia published details of the debt and the auctioning of Mr Costeja’s home to pay it back. When Lae newspaper digitalised its archives several years later, the debt and auction frequently came up next to Mr Costeja’s name in Google searches.
Mr Costeja (55) says his reputation as a forensic graphologist, and therefore his income, were hampered by the fact the debt remained associated with him for years, even though he settled it in 1998.
“The first thing you do when you’re going to hire someone is look for them on Google to see who this person is,” he told The Irish Times yesterday. “For a while this affected me badly.”
He said he was not surprised at the advocate’s decision, although the court itself is yet to deliver a final ruling.
“Google is a new phenomenon and there is no legislation covering it,” he said. “People ask me what I think of Google and I always tell them that Google’s the best invention since the wheel. But even the wheel had to improve – when it started out it was made of stone.”
Google welcomed the decision, with spokesman William Echikson posting on the company’s blog: “In order to achieve all the social, cultural and economic benefits of the internet, it must be kept free and open.”