Written by Susan Foster, Solicitor England & Wales/Admitted in California
(LONDON) The highly influential Article 29 Working Party, composed in part of representatives of the EU’s national data protection offices, has announced that the right to be forgotten applies to .com as well as country-specific search results.
The Google Spain decision (discussed here) held that a search engine with advertising activities in Europe (directly or through a subsidiary) must delete search results that link to personal information that the person in question thinks is no longer “relevant.” Google implemented a removal process for its search domain names with European extensions, such as Google.fr, but not for Google.com search results. The Google Spain case makes Google the arbiter of removal requests in the first instance. If the request is rejected, the individual can appeal to his or her local EU Data Protection authority.
The Art. 29 Working Party has now issued an opinion that EU Data Protection authorities should interpret the Google Spain decision as applying globally. That means that Google would have to delete search results found through a search on Google.com. (It takes a bit of know-how to search Google.com from within Europe without getting automatically redirected back to the country-specific sites, but as of the date of this blog post, it is possible to do it.)
It is fair to assume that the national EU Data Protection authorities will follow the Art. 29 Working Party opinion, since the Working Party is made up largely of representatives of those authorities.
So EU law will affect what we see anywhere around the world when we search for information that involves an EU resident. Google’s reaction to the Google Spain decision has indicated that Google really doesn’t want to be the web’s censor – but it doesn’t seem to have much of a choice now.