European Court of Justice Requires Google to Delete Old Links
What happens on the internet stays on the internet. That was one of the lessons from Snapchat’s inability to actually deliver on its promise of deleting user messages. But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has determined otherwise. It has, for the first time, recognized a right of “erasure” of certain data that is posted online.
The case arose when Mario Costeja of Spain found that a Google search of his name led to old legal notices from 1998 detailing his accumulated debts and the forced sale of his property. While the issue had been settled years earlier, the search still had the results. The Spanish Data Protection Agency agreed that the results were irrelevant, and ordered Google to remove them. Google, of course, challenged the order, and the case eventually landed in the ECJ. The ECJ agreed that Google would need to remove the request for erasure, stating that a search engine could be “obliged to remove links to web pages” even when the original publication was lawful.
To determine whether a link should be removed, the court would review the petitioner’s request to determine whether the petitioner has a right to the information and whether that information should, at that particular point in time, no longer be linked to his name by a search results list. If so, the links must be removed. There is an exception where “there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public in having access to the information when such a search is made.”
The ruling extends beyond search engines, and will affect social media sites like Facebook, and anyone else that may have European customers. While the ruling is still new, and the full implications are not yet known, it does mean that online companies storing information about European customers should have a mechanism in place for removing data if requested by a court.
Curia – Summary of the Decision