An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties.
The European Court of Justice (tantamount to the U.S. Supreme Court) ruled Tuesday that consumers have the right to ask Google to remove damaging content about them, aka “the right to be forgotten.” The ECJ said that Google links to “irrelevant” and “outdated” data should be removed upon request. The burden to determine what is irrelevant and outdated, however, is born by the search engine, along with weighing the potential public interest of the contested information.
“The fact that data are retained and subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user being informed is likely to generate in the persons concerned a feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance,” the court said in written statement. A spokesperson from the ECJ tweeted later in the day that it’s now up to each of the 28 member states to react to the ruling “as they see fit.”
Another interesting point is that the original online sources of the information, newspaper websites for example, won’t be compelled to do anything under this ruling. The court reasoned that no one would see the old newspaper articles without search engines using them in results, saying, “without the search engine, the information could not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty.”
As for Google, they called the ruling “disappointing” and equated it to censorship. “We now need to take time to analyse the implications,” a Google spokesperson told the BBC.
The U.S. doesn’t have a data retention law to compel companies to keep data, but that doesn’t prevent them from doing it. Many companies, most notably phone and internet providers, retain your data for both billing and marketing purposes.
So when a ruling like this happen in America? Probably never. Unlike Europe’s Convention on Human Rights, the U.S. doesn’t have a delineated set of privacy rights. That, coupled with our (sometimes militant) defense of free speech, means that we’re unlikely to see laws like this in our lifetimes.
To view the full text of the ECJ press release, click here.