Google Inc is already getting requests to remove objectionable personal information from its search engine after Europe's top court ruled that subjects have the "right to be forgotten," a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The world's No. 1 Internet search company has yet to figure out how to handle an expected flood of requests after Tuesday's ruling, said the source, who is not authorized to speak on the record about the issue.
The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which affects the region's 500 million citizens, requires that Internet search services remove information deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant." Failure to do so can result in fines.
"There's many open questions," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the company's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday in response to a question about the ruling and its implications on Google's operations.
"A simple way of understanding what happened here is that you have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know. From Google's perspective that's a balance," Schmidt said. "Google believes having looked at the decision, which is binding, that the balance that was struck was wrong."
He was not asked about the recent take-down requests.
Google will need to build up an "army of removal experts" in each of the 28 European Union countries, including those where Google does not have operations, the source said. Whether those staffers merely remove controversial links or actually judge the merits of individual take-down requests are among the many questions Google has yet to figure out, the source said.
Europeans can submit take-down requests directly to Internet companies rather than to local authorities or publishers under the ruling. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a person can seek redress from the courts.
The criteria for determining which take-down requests are legitimate is not completely clear from the decision, said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at the George Washington University and head of the National Constitution Center.
The ruling seems to give search engines more leeway to dismiss take-down requests for links to webpages about public figures, in which the information is deemed to be of public interest. But search engines may err on the side of caution and remove more links than necessary to avoid liability, said Rosen, a long-time critic of such laws. He was asked by Google to speak to reporters on Tuesday's ruling,