The right to be forgotten

Posted on: 15 August 2014

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You may have seen the recent press coverage of the European Union Court of Justice decision against Google which ruled that European search engines must remove all “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive” personal data on request.

The case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that a search of his name on Google returned an article from 16 years ago about the sale of a property to recover money he owed, information which the individual claimed infringed his privacy given the matter had been resolved and was no longer relevant to his present circumstances. The rather ironic side-note here is that the case has probably done more to highlight the individual’s private life than he would ever have suffered via limited Google searches!

In response to the ruling, Google (although the same applies to all search engines used in Europe) has now developed an application form which individuals can complete to request that personal data be removed. Google have said that when evaluating a request they will consider whether the results include outdated information as well as whether there is a public interest in the information. They describe public interest as being data about a person which may relate to things such as, “financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official”.

So if you now carry out a search for certain individuals on Google, you may see the following notice at the bottom of the results page:

'Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.'

The ruling has been labelled as the “right to be forgotten” in reference to the new data protection legislation originally proposed back in 2012 by the European Commission which contained similar rules around individuals being able to request that a company remove personal data held about them, however that legislation continues to be debated across Europe with the UK a particular detractor of aspects of the proposed changes.

It will be interesting to see whether this recent Google ruling has a knock on effect should customers now challenge the use and storage of their personal data.

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