France can't censor Google globally — European Union legal advice

Elias Hubbard
January 12, 2019

The case arose after CNIL fined Google €100,000 for failing to remove an individual's name from all of its domains across the internet.

The search giant appealed against this in the French courts, on the grounds that this right should be balanced with rights to freedom of expression and to information, and the case was heard by the CJEU previous year.

Opinions from the court's advocate general aren't binding but the court often follows them when it hands down its ruling, which is expected later.

"There would be a risk, if worldwide de-referencing were possible, that persons in third States would be prevented from accessing information and, in turn, that third States would prevent persons in the EU Member States from accessing information". This includes using geo-blocking based on the IP address of the person performing the search. Namely, CNIL wanted Google to remove those links from Google.com instead of just removing links from European versions of the site, like Google.de and Google.fr. Going further would be risky, he warned, because the "right to be forgotten" always has to be balanced against other rights, including "legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought".

Szpunar said if worldwide "de-referencing" was allowed, European Union authorities would not be able to determine a right to receive information or balance it against other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy. The regulator argued that people in the European Union could still find a link that was taken down on google.fr - that's the French Google - if it was still listed on google.com. The legal framework demands that internet companies purge search results about people's personal information.

Google, however, has argued that the rule only applies to its search engine in Europe.

Free speech campaigners welcomed the opinion.

"European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see".

Although the case relates to a dispute between Google and France's National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL), a number of United Kingdom and worldwide free speech organisations intervened, warning that extending the power could encourage censorship in countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

While the right to be forgotten concerns all search engines, Google's dominance in Europe means the company has taken center stage.

This case involves the CNIL's refusal to order the removal of links found in searches using individuals' names.

The French data watchdog had gone to the European Court of Justice to establish whether it could force companies such as Google to de-list search results across the world under the right to be forgotten (RTBF) law.

However, he said, the firm must ensure the protection of the right to access information and the right to freedom of information.

The Right To Be Forgotten applies to a search result that is deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive" and - as of 10 January 2019 - Google had delisted 1.1 million URLs, approving about 44 per cent of requests.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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