Google Can Limit ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ to EU, Top Court Adviser Says

January 10, 2019 Updated: January 10, 2019

FRANKFURT/PARIS—Google can limit the “right to be forgotten” to internet searches made in the European Union, an adviser to the bloc’s top court said on Jan. 10, backing an appeal by the U.S. search giant against a French fine.

European Court of Justice judges typically follow the advice of the advocate general, usually within two to four months, although they aren’t bound to do so.

Maciej Szpunar’s opinion was welcomed by Google, which locked horns with France’s privacy watchdog after being fined in 2016 for failing to delist sensitive information beyond the borders of the EU.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that the ‘right to be forgotten’ is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99 percent effectiveness,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s senior privacy counsel, said.

France’s CNIL data protection authority said it noted the opinion and restated its view that the right to privacy should apply, regardless of the geographical origin of the person doing an internet search.

Europeans gained the right to ask search engines to delist irrelevant or outdated information about them in a landmark ruling five years ago. If approved, after a decision based on a balance between a person’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know, the content won’t appear in search results.

Szpunar said searches made from outside the EU should not be affected by this “de-referencing” of information.

“The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought,” he said.

Once the right to be forgotten had been established within the EU, a search engine operator should do all it can to remove entries, including using geo-blocking in the event that the IP address of a device connected to the internet is deemed to be within the EU, Szpunar added.

French Dispute

Google, which estimates that it has removed 2.9 million links under the right to be forgotten, had appealed a 100,000 euro ($115,000) fine from CNIL in March 2016 for failing to delist information across national borders, sending the case to the European Court of Justice.

In a second dispute between a group of individuals and CNIL, Szpunar said that prohibitions on processing certain types of data should also apply to the operators of search engines.

This case involves the CNIL’s refusal to order the removal of links found in searches using individuals’ names.

These included a satirical photomontage of a female politician; an article referring to one interested party as a public relations officer of the Church of Scientology; the placing under investigation of a male politician; and the conviction of another party for sexual assaults against minors.

By Douglas Busvine and Gwénaëlle Barzic