Google must allow people to scrub reputations online: European court

May 14 2014, 15:19 IST
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The ruling stemmed from a case out of Spain involving Google. The ruling stemmed from a case out of Spain involving Google.
SummaryGoogle, others must delete references to old debts, arrests, unflattering episodes.

to their crimes or politicians to airbrush their records.

Lee Rowland, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney specializing in privacy and technology issues, said a similar ruling in the U.S. is highly unlikely "because the First Amendment provides robust protections for the printing and reporting of publicly available information.''

"What instead it will do is fracture these global Internet companies into having different rules and modes of governance for different countries,'' Rowland said.

Alejandro Tourino, a Spanish lawyer who specializes in mass media issues, said the ruling was a first of its kind and "quite a blow for Google.''

"It is a most important ruling and the first time European authorities have ruled on the `right to be forgotten,''' said Tourino, who has worked for The Associated Press in several legal cases and is the author of "The Right to be Forgotten and Privacy on the Internet.''

Some limited forms of a "right to be forgotten'' exist in the U.S. and elsewhere - for example, in regard to crimes committed by minors or bankruptcy regulations, both of which usually require that records be expunged in some way. However, the burden falls on the publisher of the information, usually a government - not on search engines.

Viviane Reding, the EU's top justice official, said in a Facebook posting that the ruling confirmed that "data belongs to the individual'' and that unless there is a good reason to retain data, "an individual should be empowered by law to request erasure.''

However, Javier Ruiz, policy director at Open Rights Group, a British-based organization, cautioned that authorities have to be careful in how they move forward.

"We need to take into account individuals' right to privacy,'' he said. "But if search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate content that is already in the public domain ... it could lead to online censorship.''

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