ARTICLE 19 has warned that a Swedish case into the Right to be Forgotten could have implications for freedom of expression. The Swedish Data Protection Authority have issued a fine of 7 million euros to Google for not meeting its obligations under GDPR in regard to de-listing websites from search results. They have also ordered Google to stop notifying site owners when they de-list content from their sites.
Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19 said:
“It is worrying that the Swedish DPA has ordered Google to stop notifying site owners when they de-list content from their sites.
“This decision highlights one of the key problems with the Right To Be Forgotten process: the decisions to de-list are made by search engines in the first instance and data protection authorities if the search engine refuses to comply. It is important for freedom of expression that data publishers know that their material has been de-indexed and there should be a process that allows them to challenge these decisions.
“While there is an argument for protecting individuals’ privacy through the Right To Be Forgotten, we need to ensure that these decisions are balanced with the public’s rights to freedom of expression and to access information.”
Background to the Right to be Forgotten
In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that European citizens could ask search engines like Google to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” content. This is 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. (Google Spain)
In 2019, the CJEU ruled that search engines are not obliged to de-list websites across the world when ordered by a court or data regulator. The ruling was in response a request for clarification by France’s highest administrative court., who had 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 led an intervention by eight international freedom of expression organisations who warned of the potential harm to Internet users’ right to access information if this happened. They warned that forcing search engines to de-list information on a global basis would be disproportionate.
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