Top judges from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are currently considering a privacy case against search engine giant Google, which could have big implications for the way major companies handle personal information.
The case was referred to the European court by Spain, where a leading Surgeon has lodged a complaint about the information presented by Google when users search for his name. In 1991 he was arrested and charged with criminal negligence, but was later acquitted on all charges. If you google his name, however, the information which is presented is all about his arrest and the charges against him – with no information immediately visible regarding the fact that he was later acquitted.
European law enshrines an online “right to be forgotten”. Spain has argued that this includes the right to have incorrect or out-of-date information deleted.
Google has fought this on two fronts. Firstly they say that they are not the creator nor controller of the information, merely an intermediary, and so should not be asked to remove data which has been legally published elsewhere. To give a personal opinion, I do not think that this makes much sense, because they are the controller of information on their website – and it is this which the case is concerned with, not with information published elsewhere. They have also tried to side-step the case by arguing that their Spanish division is purely an advertising sales company, and that search results are provided by the US company and so are not subject to European law. Spain is arguing, however, that Google indexes Spanish websites, has a Spanish domain name, and that the “centre of gravity” of the case is in Spain, concerns Spanish citizens and Spanish internet users, and therefore falls under Spanish law…