Europes top court says firm does not have to take sensitive information off global search
The right to be forgotten online does not extend beyond the borders of the European Union, the blocs highest court has ruled in a major victory for Google.
The right, enshrined in a 2014 legal ruling, required search engines to delete embarrassing or out-of-date information, when requested by the individuals concerned but in a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the European court of justice said search engine operators faced no obligation to remove information outside the 28-country zone.
It however said search engines must seriously discourage internet users from going onto non-EU versions of their pages to find that information.
The balance between right to privacy and protection of personal data, on the on hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world, the court said in a statement on the decision. The right to be forgotten was not an absolute right, the court said, and had to be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with proportionality.
Privacy campaigners hailed a victory for global freedom of expression, while Google welcomed the courts decision.
The case originated in a dispute between Google and the French privacy regulator CNIL, which in 2015 called for the firm to globally remove links to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.
Google introduced a geo-blocking feature in 2016 following year, which stopped European users from being able to see delisted links. However, it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world, challenging a 100,000 (88,376) fine CNIL tried to impose.
The technology firm argued that, if this rule were applied outside Europe, the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.
Google says it has received 845,501 right to be forgotten requests in the past five years, leading to the removal of 45% of the 3.3m links referred to in the requests. Although the content itself remains online, it cannot be found through online searches of the individuals name.
The 2014 ruling related to a test case brought by a Spanish man after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on a Catalan website.
Google won the backing of the ECJ court adviser Maciej Szpunar earlier this year, who said the right to be forgotten should be enforced only in Europe and not globally. Judges follow such non-binding opinions in four out of five cases.
The US firm was also supported by Microsoft, Wikipedias owner the Wikimedia Foundation, and the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.
Google had previously warned of the dangers of overreach by Europe. In a blogpost two years ago, the company said there should be a balance between sensitive personal data and the public interest and that no one country should be able to impose its rules on citizens of another.
Responding to the judgement on Tuesday, Peter Fleischer, Googles senior privacy counsel, said: Since 2014, weve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between peoples rights of access to information and privacy. Its good to see that the court agreed with our arguments.
Google and rival search engines will have to take measures, the ECJ said, to effectively prevent or, at the very least, seriously discourage users in the EU from using other versions of its site to access removed content.
Thomas Hughes, executive director of the freedom of expression organisation Article 19, described the ruling as a victory for global freedom of expression. Courts or data regulators in the UK, France or Germany should not be able to determine the search results that internet users in America, India or Argentina get to see It is not right that one countrys data protection authorities can impose their interpretation on Internet users around the world.