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May 14, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:26am

What the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ court ruling means for censorship and privacy

The implications for European citizens

By Duncan Macrae

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled this week that European citizens have a "right to be forgotten" in a landmark case against Google.

The decision by the EU’s supreme court means that companies can be forced to remove personal information from websites if such data is deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

But is this in any way enforceable? And what exactly does it mean for you?

Experts give their views:

Jef Ausloos, doctoral researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT, University of Leuven

"Though at first glance it seems to considerably threaten freedom of expression/information interests, much of the wording seems to be very nuanced and limited in scope when looked at more closely. Additionally, the decision is entirely based on the existing legal framework. It is hard to predict how the judgment will interact with the future data protection Regulation, which is already being drafted."

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Javier Ruiz, policy director at Open Rights Group

"We need to take into account individuals’ right to privacy but this ruling raises significant concerns. If search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate public content, it could lead to online censorship. This case has major implications for all kinds of Internet intermediaries, not just search engines."

The EU ‘right to privacy case may raise costs for firms

Luca Schiovani, analyst at Ovum

"This move may sound reassuring for individuals and their personal freedom. However, it also looks difficult to enforce on a large scale, and may be very disruptive for the functioning of search engines going forward.

"This decision sets a precedent whereby, upon request, search engine providers will have to update their search results when it is found that they point to information that is no longer relevant or accurate with regard to a person. The Court has argued that, while a search engine cannot be considered as the ‘controller’ of personal data in a third party website, it is a ‘controller’ of the index of the search engine which links key words to the relevant URL addresses; it may technically block certain search results. As such, it has to comply with the obligations of a "data controller" set out in the EC’s Directive on Data Protection of 1995."

Christian Toon, head of Information Risk, Europe, Iron Mountain

"Consumers’ faith in businesses is at an all-time low. However, this is not about one company in particular. The real question here is whether all companies are ready to carry out these requests.

"Almost everything we do creates a trail of information that can be collected, processed and shared. With so much information now collected, the majority of UK consumers admit that they now deal with so many organisations – both offline and online – that they no longer know who holds what information about them.

"Businesses must take responsibility to know what consumer information they hold, where they hold it, and how to destroy or delete it securely. It would be advisable to prepare for these demands now before the law compels them to do so. This would help many to cut through the cynicism surrounding what data organisations hold on ordinary people.

James Thomlinson, partner & MD, Bell Pottinger Wired

"The ECJ’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling not only makes for an unrealistic web, but it opens a can of worms on the entire communications industry.

"While the ruling represents fantastic news for the individual, it will come at significant cost to Google and other major content providers as they prepare to deal with increased customer requests and areas of uncertainty.

"The lack of clarity from the ECJ on relevancy of results and whether or not this ruling applies to individuals in companies or even an entire brand’s reputation, will have lawyers up and down the country rubbing their hands in glee."




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