Google Inc. is not responsible for third-party information appearing in its search results and cannot be required to remove information from its index, according to a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice which also negates the idea of the “right to be forgotten” online.

Based on the current Data Protection Directive, search engines service providers are not responsible for personal data appearing in Web pages they show on their sites, according to the opinion penned by ECJ Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen.

Jaaskinen also said rights to correction, erasure or blocking of data only apply if there is incomplete, inaccurate, libelous or criminal information.

Although the advocate general’s ruling is not binding on the ECJ, the court ruling usually follows his independent advice.

Jaaskinen’s opinion pertains to a Spanish case referred to the ECJ concerning an individual who requested Google Spain in 2010 to remove links to a newspaper article which mentions his name in connection with a property auction ordered by the Spanish government due to unpaid social security debts. The individual argued that the case dated back to 1998 and has since been resolved.

The Spanish Data Protection Agency upheld the complaint against Google but the search engine appealed the decision to the Spanish High Court, which referred the case to the ECJ.

The case touches on privacy and the debate of an individual’s right to be forgotten.
In Europe, the right traces its roots to French law which recognizes le droit à l’oubli (right to oblivion) which allows criminals who have served their time and have been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of their conviction and imprisonment. This differs with the North American view that allows the publication of a person’s criminal record.


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With the rapid growth of information held online and the greater ease with which information can be searched, retrieved and shared, it has become increasingly harder for individuals to bury information about themselves that they would like to keep private.

The EU’s Data Protection Directive is being overhauled. One of the most contested issues is the proposal by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to include the right to be forgotten in the new charter.

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