Regulators in France are setting a dangerous precedent by directing Google to carry out the so-called "right to be forgotten" by censoring its search results worldwide.
That's according to the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups. The organizations are backing Google in a battle with French regulators over the scope of the "right to be forgotten." That right, created by European judges, requires Google to remove links to embarrassing information about people at their request, after weighing people's right to privacy against the public interest in the information.
Google argues that it can comply with the ruling by preventing links from appearing in the results pages of search engines aimed at specific countries, like Google.fr, for French residents. But the French authorities say Google must delete the links from all of its search engines, including Google.com in the U.S. Earlier this year, France's CNIL rejected Google's position and fined the company $112,000. Google is now appealing that ruling, and the Center for Democracy & Technology and others are backing Google's position.
The CDT argues in a blog post that authorities in one country shouldn't be able to decide whether particular search results are available in other countries -- especially given that authorities in some parts of the world often object to material that's perfectly legal in many nations. For instance, Pakistan authorities recently asked Google (unsuccessfully) to take down videos that satirized politicians, while Thai authorities unsuccessfully asked Google to remove YouTube clips that allegedly insulted the royal family.
Google itself has argued that no one country should be able to censor the Web internationally. "In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company's blog last year.
What's more, the "right to be forgotten" doesn't exist in the United States, where free speech principles protect the right to publish accurate information. But the CNIL ruling would still prevent U.S. residents from accessing truthful information through Google.
"While the French government may decide to limit French citizens’ access to lawfully published information under certain circumstances, it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to limit access by people outside of France to information lawfully published outside of France," the group writes in a blog post. "A non-EU resident, for example, searching on Google.com for information that appeared in a US newspaper article, does not have any expectation that the CNIL could interfere with her access to that information."