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Crucial decision of the European Court of Justice

May 15, 2014

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered a decision in the case Google Spain v. Mario Costeja González. Mr. González has demanded removal of the article in Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia from 1998 and the links to the said article from Google’s search results. The reason was that the article contained his personal data and mentioned him in connection with forced auction of his property as a result of debt on social insurance. Although the Spanish data protection agency Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) has refused to order La Vanguardia newspaper to remove the article, it has ruled that Google has to remove the article from its search results.
In its ruling the ECJ has upheld the AEPD decision. By the means of web crawling, Google is processing personal data of Europen citizens and therefore falls under the EU directive on personal data protection. Since the information about Mr. González is in the opinion of the ECJ no longer relevant he has right to demand its deletion from Google’s search results. A person has right to demand erasing search links even in the case when the original information is published lawfully.
The ECJ’s decision brought mixed reactions. While EU officials as justice commissioner Viviane Reding praise the decision as step forward in the protection of individuals’ personal data, other voices stress the negative consequences. Any person may now require directly from search engine operators removal of their personal data making the search results less relevant and paving way to censorship.
Although the ECJ in this case interpreted the EU directive on data protection from 1995, the new directive currently being in the approval process even strengthens the “right to be forgotten“ thus not changing the situation in regard to the search engines.

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