With the ever-increasing growth of the internet there is a higher risk that information published about individuals can be false, misleading, out-dated or defamatory.
In 2010 a Spanish citizen lodged a complaint to the National Data Protection Agency against a Spanish newspaper, Google Spain and Google Inc. because when searching his name an auction notice of his repossessed home, created nearly 12 years previously, would appear at the top of the search results. The proceedings concerning the repossession had been fully resolved soon after the notice was created. Therefore, the Spanish citizen argued the reference was irrelevant, out-dated and was an infringement of his privacy rights. He requested that the newspaper remove or alter the pages in question (to omit his personal data) and that Google Spain & Inc. prevent the personal data appearing in search results.
The matter proceeded to the Spanish Courts and was subsequently referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to answer a number of questions, but most importantly:
“Whether an individual has the right to request that his or her personal data be removed from accessibility via a search engine”
On 13th May 2014, the CJEU in its judgment stated that individuals have the right, under certain circumstances, to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them. This would apply when information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing.
The right to be forgotten is not absolute and will always be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the freedom of expression). As such, each request is assessed on its merits and much will be taken into account e.g. the sensitivity of the information concerned, the interest of the public having access to the information etc.
Until recently, if an individual made a successful request to Google, from the UK for example, then the URL would be removed from all European versions of Google Search (google.de, google.fr, google.co.uk etc.) simultaneously. However, from 14th March 2016 any successful request will cause the URL to be delisted from all Google Search domains, including google.com, when accessed from the country of the person requesting the removal.
By example, say Google delist a URL as a result of a request from Joe Bloggs in the United Kingdom. Users in the UK would not see the URL in search results for queries containing Joe Bloggs when searching on any Google Search domain. However, users outside of the EU (or users within the EU using a non-European Google Search domain) would still be able to see the URL on search results.
This is a further step towards protecting the privacy of individuals within their country of residence. Should an individual move to a different country within the EU, a further request could always be made to delist the URL on all Google Search domains accessed from that country.
It is also worth acknowledging that should an individual be successful in getting a website link removed from a search engine, this does not remove the webpage itself. In order to get the page removed the website host should be contacted in first instance.
Taking action against a website host can be costly, time-consuming and complex. Therefore, it might be a suitable alternative to make a request to the relevant search engines to delist the URL(s). This will not permanently remove the webpage as stated above, but will certainly mitigate any future damage.
Need assistance delisting a URL from a search engine?
Contact Sandy Burrows – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandy Burrows | Trainee Solicitor