New hearing into EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling could restrict access to information online

Civic Space 5 min read
ARTICLE 19
New hearing into EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling could restrict access to information online - Civic Space

Panos: People at the Google booth at the re:publica internet conference 2017.

  • The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been asked to clarify the scope of the famous 2014 ‘right to be forgotten’ Costeja case (Google Spain ruling).
  • The French data regulator wants the power to force search engines around the world to de-list information globally, meaning that regulators in Europe could decide which search results the rest of the world get to see.
  • ARTICLE 19 is leading an intervention by eight international freedom of expression organisations who warn of the potential harm to Internet users’ right to access information if this happens.
  • The global de-listing of information by the EU could encourage states such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to follow suit.

ARTICLE 19 is leading a coalition of international human rights organisations, who will tell the European Court of Justice (CJEU) that the de-listing of websites under the ‘right to be forgotten’ should be limited in order to protect global freedom of expression.  The hearing will take place on September 11 with a judgment expected in early 2019.

The CJEU hearing in Google vs CNIL is taking place after France’s highest administrative court asked for clarification in relation to the 2014 ruling in Google Spain. This judgment allows European citizens to ask search engines like Google to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” content – commonly known as the ‘right to be forgotten’ (RTBF). While the content itself remains online, it cannot be found through online searches of the individual’s name.

The CJEU has been asked to clarify whether a court or data regulator should require a search engine to de-list websites only in the country where it has jurisdiction or across the entire world.

France’s data regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL) has argued that if they uphold a complaint by a French citizen, search engines such as Google should not only be compelled to remove links from google.fr but all Google domains.

ARTICLE 19 and the coalition of intervening organisations have warned that forcing search engines to de-list information on a global basis would be disproportionate.

Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, Thomas Hughes said:

“This case could see the right to be forgotten threatening global free speech. European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what Internet users around the world find when they use a search engine. The CJEU must limit the scope of the right to be forgotten in order to protect the right of Internet users around the world to access information online.”

ARTICLE 19 argues that rights to privacy and rights to freedom of expression must be balanced when it comes to making deciding whether websites should be de-listed.

Hughes added:

“If European regulators can tell Google to remove all references to a website, then it will be only a matter of time before countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia start to do the same. The CJEU should protect freedom of expression not set a global precedent for censorship.”

 

Notes to editors

  • ARTICLE 19 works for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.
  • ARTICLE 19 filed a third party intervention in Google Inc. v. Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes with the following leading digital , human rights and freedom of expression organisations: Derechos Digitales, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, the Clinique d’intérêt public et de politique d’Internet du Canada, the Electronic Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Open Net Korea and Pen International.
  • The coalition’s submission is available here: https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Google-v-CNIL-A19-intervention-EN-11-12-17-FINAL-v2.pdf
  • ARTICLE 19’s 2016 policy briefing on the Right to be Forgotten is here: https://www.article19.org/resources/policy-brief-the-right-to-be-forgotten/

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Pam Cowburn

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