Commentary

Google Poised To Prevail In Battle Over 'Right To Be Forgotten'

Google appears poised to win a showdown in Europe over whether the so-called “right to be forgotten” requires censorship of results worldwide.

On Thursday Maciej Szpunar, an advisor to the highest court in the EU, sided with Google in the fight, arguing that the right to be forgotten should only be enforceable in Europe -- not the entire world. The opinion is non-binding, but seen as likely to be followed.

The controversial right to be forgotten was created in 2014, when EU judges ruled that Google (and other search engines) must remove links to embarrassing information about Europeans at their request, after weighing their right to privacy against the public interest in the information. The right to be forgotten doesn't exist in the United States, where free speech principles protect the right to publish accurate information.

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Google interpreted the EU's ruling as requiring removal of links to material in search engines designed for European countries, like Google.fr, but not from its worldwide search results, including the U.S. page Google.com.

In 2015, French regulators rejected Google's position and ordered the company to remove material from all of its results pages.

Google then asked Europe's highest court to reject that view. The company argues 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 in 2015.

“No one country should be able to impose its rules on the citizens of another country, especially when it comes to linking to lawful content," he wrote. "Adopting such a rule would encourage other countries, including less democratic regimes, to try to impose their values on citizens in the rest of the world."

The company drew support from a host of rights groups, including the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch. They argued that authorities in one country shouldn't be able to decide what search results are available in other countries -- especially because material that's illegal in one country is lawful in others.

The CDT called attention to several examples -- including a request by Pakistan that Google take down videos that satirized politicians, and one by Thai authorities who asked Google to remove YouTube clips that allegedly insulted the royal family.

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