Landmark privacy ruling in Europe on the right to be forgotten

By Patrick Van Eecke, Anthony Cornette and Jim Halpert

In a landmark ruling in May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that search engines need to remove the link between search results and a web page if it contains information an individual deems should be ‘forgotten’.

In 1998, a major Spanish newspaper published two short announcements about a real-estate auction that occurred due to a Spanish citizen’s social security debts. In 2009, this person contacted the newspaper, complaining the announcements still appeared in Google searches of his name. Arguing the search results damaged his reputation and the attachment proceedings had been resolved long before, he asked the newspaper to block the pages from being indexed by search engines. The newspaper declined.

In 2010, the citizen contacted Google and filed a complaint with the Spanish data protection authority, the AEPD, which took the view that ‘it has the power to require the withdrawal of data and the prohibition of access to certain data by the operators of search engines when it considers that the locating and dissemination of the data are liable to compromise the fundamental right to data protection and the dignity of persons in the broad sense, and this would also encompass the mere wish of the person concerned that such data not be known to third parties’…

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