Google has won a landmark legal case which defines the limits of the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’. The ruling made by the European Court of Justice has stated that the right to be forgotten doesn’t apply outside the EU’s borders, meaning Google and other search engines are under no obligation to delete search results on EU citizens in nations outside of the European Union.
The ruling comes at the end of a long running dispute between Google and the French privacy regulator CNIL. In 2015, the regulator ordered Google to globally remove search result listings to pages which contained damaging or false information about a person. Instead of following the order to a tee, Google a geoblocking feature in 2016 so that those within the EU wouldn’t be able to see the offending search results, but those outside of the EU would.
Following Google’s decision to only apply CNIL’s request to search results within the EU, the regulator fired back at the firm with a €100,000 fine. Google disagreed with the fine, and argued that the right to be forgotten law could not be extended beyond the EU’s borders, fearing that the law could be misused and fundamentally challenged freedom of speech.
That’s how we ended up at the ECJ, which has now ruled that Google’s geoblocking feature is lawful, as the right to be forgotten does not extend beyond EU borders. While this is a landmark win for Google, it still doesn’t stop the inherent issues associated with the right to be forgotten, which the company has argued for years can be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses or by unsavoury individuals who simply want to hide their misdeeds.
Thankfully, the court did go some way toward addressing the second issue, ruling that links did not have to be removed simply because they contained details about a person’s sex life or criminal convictions.