The “right to be forgotten”, which enables claimants to request the removal of links to irrelevant or outdated online information about them, should not be enforceable globally, the European court of justice (ECJ) has found in a preliminary opinion.
The controversial power, requiring search engines to prevent access to material on the internet, should be enforceable only in the EU and not worldwide, the court’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, said. Final judgments by the ECJ usually endorse initial opinions.
Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law has consistently proven challenging since it was passed in 2014. For starters, requests may only be granted if information is considered “inadequate” or “irrelevant”, but there’s no clear rule set for those terms, meaning it’s essentially up to Google to decide what’s eligible (and it’s picky — of 2.4 million requests submitted across four years, the search giant complied with only 43.3 percent).
And as the law exists only in Europe, there’s confusion over the applicability of the legislation to search results from other regions. If someone from the UK wants a result scrubbed, does Google have to remove it from its US domain too? Well according to a new non-binding ruling from one of Europe’s senior chief advisors, the answer is no.
Advocate General Maciej Szpunar — advisor to judges at Europe’s highest court — issued an opinion today that search requests made outside of the EU should not be affected by the de-referencing of search results.
He said that the fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and public interest, and that if de-referencing worldwide was allowed “EU authorities would not be able to define and determine a right to receive information, let alone balance it against the other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy.”
Google must smile at this following the lengthy battle with French authorities who believe permitted “right to be forgotten” requests should be scrubbed everywhere. But it’s not a binding ruling — the final decision will come later this year — although decisions like this are usually a good indicator of how policy will eventually be shaped.
However, the General also stated that he could not “rule out the possibility” that search engines may be required to de-reference results at a worldwide level in “certain situations”. Unless this is explicitly clarified, the law could end up becoming even more ambiguous.