Tribunal witness sought removal of Google search results

Data Protection Commissioner rejects request from person who gave ‘key testimony’

Google’s refusal to remove search results about a witness who gave “key testimony” in a long-running tribunal was upheld by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Google’s refusal to remove search results about a witness who gave “key testimony” in a long-running tribunal was upheld by the Data Protection Commissioner.

 

Google’s refusal to remove search results about a witness who gave “key testimony” in a long-running tribunal was upheld by the Data Protection Commissioner.

The case is among a number outlined in the commissioner’s annual report for 2015, published on Tuesday.

A complaint was lodged with the commissioner in relation to the internet search giant’s refusal to remove certain search results about the unnamed person under the so-called right-to-be-forgotten ruling.

That principle stems from the ‘Google Spain’ judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union in May 2014 that individuals had a right to have information about themselves returned in internet searches delisted in certain circumstances.

The case related to a Spanish national, Mario Costeja, who had sought the removal of details about the forced sale of properties arising from debts.

Where search engines refuse to remove information that features the person’s name, the affected individuals (known as data subjects) may bring the matter before their national data protection authority.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon said she received 23 such complaints last year, of which seven were upheld and 16 rejected.

“One rejected complaint centred around a long-running tribunal, where the (commissioner’s) office concurred with Google’s position not to delist certain URLs found following a search conducted using an individual’s name.

“Given that the individual concerned had given key testimony at this important tribunal, it was considered that there was a legitimate public interest in maintaining access to this information against a search on that individual’s name.”

The commissioner said a search using other keywords in the original content – i.e. that published in media – would still have produced a result in the internet search engine.

An independent group of EU data protection authorities issued guidelines in November 2014 setting out criteria to aid in the assessment of such cases – such as whether the individual plays a role in public life, whether the individual is a minor and whether the information is factually accurate.

Data protection authorities will also consider whether the information relates to the person’s private or professional life, whether it is up to date and whether it relates to sensitive personal data such as health or religion.

Of the complaints that were upheld by the commissioner last year, one related to an interview given by an individual to a local newspaper seven years previously about potholes on the local roads.

Internet searches of the individual’s name revealed the pothole interview as the first listed result.

“With the repairs to the potholes completed, the issue was resolved but the individual was unhappy that a search against their name still produced this story in the results,” the commissioner said.

“Arguing with Google on the complainant’s behalf, we successfully made the case that the story was out of date and therefore no longer relevant.”