The European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) has set in motion a sensitive bill that will make all web browsers, governments, and control agencies around the world take notice. No, it is not Wikileaks all over again. I’m talking about the recent sentence by the ECJ in response to a claim by a Spanish citizen who found old information about him online and asked for it to be removed.
Just to give you some background, Mr. Mario Costeja González, Spanish citizen browsed his name and two hits appeared related to some debts with the social security system and a couple of apartments that were going to be seized 10 years ago. He got in touch with the browser page in Spain and pledged for the link to be removed. When that didn’t happen, he went to the AEPD (Spanish data protection agency), who then went on to ask for the removal of the data. When that didn’t happen either, the AEPD decided to go to court in Spain, based on the DIRECTIVE 95/46/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL and that court went on to the ECJ to ask for a ruling. And we have the answer.
The ECJ has ruled that Google, the leading search engine in the world, must remove all search results at the request of a citizen if the websites to which it links contain personal data of the applicant and the laws that set those requirements are met. We have named this new acquired right the “Derecho al Olvido” or “Right to Be Forgotten”.
What are the consequences?
- An important consequence of this statement is referred to the scope of the Data Protection Directive and national legislation on the subject. Google will go through the European data protection laws because it has offices in major European countries, even if they are “a branch or a subsidiary aimed at ensuring the promotion and sale of advertising space”. Before this sentence, Google kept claiming that his offices were in SF, therefore every claim had to go there. Now Europe agrees that Google is worldwide and can be reached almost anywhere.
- Another big consequence is that prevailing data protection on a general consensus of “mere economic interest as a manager search engine” has been proven and will be protected, unless the applicant has public relevance and access to information is justified by the public interest. Therefore, the mere Joe Smith from around the corner can see his information taken down, but public celebrities may not be able to.
- Lastly, the ECJ makes Google responsible even on other sites not controlled by the web search tool, and makes Google be the one who has to take it down.
And the main question is “WHAT NOW?” Well, based on the ECJ ruling, it recognized that in each case it has to be checked if the results coming up from the search are still a valid link to the person they are linked to. “If this is the case, links to websites containing such information should be deleted from the list of results, unless there are special reasons, such as the role of that person in public life to justify prevailing interest public access to that information when searching, “said the Court.
What can I do as an individual to protect my rights? People have the right to request the search engine, with the conditions laid down in current legislation on data protection, to remove all references that affect them, even if the publisher has not eliminated this information or this same publisher hasn’t requested for the information to be taken down. If the request is not met, the person requesting it is entitled to claim the protection of the AEPD and the courts.
I do not know if this is the beginning of a new era of protection. I don’t know either if this will be just one hiccup for the powerful higher circles in their quest to track everything and everyone that happens everywhere, but knowing that the courts are kind of on the people’s side leads me to believe maybe not everything has been lost, yet.