Google Wins Round in Fight Against Global Right to Be Forgotten

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai

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Backed by an array of free-speech advocates, the tech company has argued that expanding the territorial scope of the right to be forgotten would infringe on other countries' sovereignty and encourage dictators and tyrants to assert control over content published beyond their countries' borders.

The Alphabet Inc. unit now removes such links EU-wide and since 2016 it also restricts access to such information on non-EU Google sites when accessed from the EU country where the person concerned by the information is located - referred to as geo-blocking.

Szpunar has also today issued a second opinion (PDF) on the right to be forgotten in another case involving Google and the CNIL, assessing a search engine's responsibilities when it comes to sensitive data.

Google's senior privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, said the company acknowledges that the right to privacy and public access to information "are important to people all around the world".

The ECJ is now examining whether Google must remove results only in countries where the request was made, or beyond national borders.

Forcing a search engine to apply the EU's so-called "right to be forgotten" on a global basis could create a situation where other countries prevent people in the European Union from accessing information, the top legal advisor to the EU's highest court warned Thursday.

"European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see", Article 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes said, adding he hoped the court's judges would back Szpunar.

"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", Szpunar said.

The opinions of the court's advocates-general do not always align with the court's ultimate judgments, though they usually do.

The European Court of Justice's advocate general released a preliminary opinion Thursday in the case involving the US tech company and France's data privacy regulator.

Google, however, has argued that the rule only applies to its search engine in Europe.

They should accede, as a matter of course, to de-referencing requests, said Szpunar.

"There would be a risk, if worldwide de-referencing were possible, that persons in third States would be prevented from accessing information and, in turn, that third States would prevent persons in the EU Member States from accessing information".

Mr Szpunar's decision was welcomed by United Kingdom digital rights group Article 19 which said: "European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see".

This is made even more hard to weigh up as the public interest in accessing information will vary from one non-EU country to another, and global delisting would prevent people in those states from accessing information.

This is in a case brought by four individuals over the CNIL's refusal to put Google on formal notice to carry out delisting requests for search results for their names.

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