Thursday

27th Jun 2019

Google faces no EU-level fines if it ignores 'right to be forgotten' verdict

  • The European Court of Justice won't impose a fine if Google does not follow EU law on the 'right to be forgotten' (Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro)

Google won’t risk financial penalties from the EU’s top court if it chooses to ignore a recent ‘right to be forgotten’ judgement.

“The [European] Court of Justice has no power to fine a company in this context, competition law yes, but not here,” a contact at the Luxembourg-based legal arbiter told this website on Thursday (15 May).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Fines would instead be handed out at member state level.

The Court earlier this week clarified how national courts need to interpret the right from a two-decade old EU directive on data protection.

The decision means people in the EU can ask Google and any other search operator to remove content deemed out-dated or irrelevant.

It is final and cannot be appealed by the US-based company.

The Court’s decision can only change if the EU law is modified.

The case stems back to 2012 when Spanish citizen Mario Costeja Gonzalez filed a complaint against Google.

Gonzalez demanded Google filter out his name from search queries linked to the repossession of his homes in a story first published in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.

The Court agreed with Gonzalez.

Vilified and celebrated

The verdict has been both vilified and celebrated by pro-rights civil society groups.

The London-based Index on Censorship says it will “open up the flood gates” with the BBC reporting the US internet giant has already received ‘right to be forgotten’ requests from a paedophile and a British former politician seeking re-election.

“Somebody who has an embarrassing photo, we are not saying ‘tough luck to them’, there should be a way for them to mitigate their damages but this particular case (the Gonzalez case) was in effect a public notice,” said Sean Gallagher at the pro-transparency NGO.

Gallagher warned the implications could be severe because the requests block people from accessing something that was on the public record and not something that was slanderous or libellous.

He said the ruling means Gonzalez could also request Google to remove the Court’s own judgement on the case which mentions his name from the search results if he so chose.

The right to privacy, according to the verdict, is now more important than the right for the public to be informed, noted Gallagher.

The BBC cited Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales describing the decision as "one of the most wide-sweeping internet censorship rulings that I've ever seen".

He said the Court's verdict makes no sense.

Not everyone agrees.

Joe McNamee, the director of European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based NGO, said that even though the balance is in favour of the right to privacy there are “undefined circumstances” where this is not the case.

He pointed out Google already engages in extensive removal of links from its search service.

Last year, the company pulled 214 million links from its search engine out of a total of 235 million requests, he noted.

“Google chose to remove these search results globally, even though they have not been subject to any legal process outside the US,” he said in an email.

Some are concerned the ruling could create a system where people in the US would be able to access information on the search engine no longer visible in the EU.

But McNamee pointed out Google already de-indexes on a national level on the basis of various legal and ad hoc agreements.

“It removes, for example, sites accused of hate speech in Google.de, but leaves them available via Google.com,” he said.

EU data protection reform

EU legislators, for their part, are overhauling the 1995 directive.

The European Commission upgraded it to a regulation in 2012, backed by the European Parliament, but negotiations are stuck among member states.

The reformed regulation says people can have their data removed when there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.

It also states data can be retained “where it is necessary for historical, statistical and scientific (...) purposes”.

Public interest in the area of public health, freedom of expression, and other exemptions are given when the data should be kept alive.

The Greek EU presidency, for its part, has yet to decide whether to include the Court’s verdict as an agenda item at the June meeting on data protection.

“Now with the Court ruling, it might make things, depending on the reaction of member states, either more difficult or easier,” said Greek EU presidency spokesperson Alexandros Vidouris.

Last year, both Spain and Germany suggested that people may abuse the right to be forgotten “with fraudulent intent” when it comes to finances.

Austria, Estonia, France and Ireland, for their part, welcomed the right in the new legislation.

Google removes press links after EU ruling

Google has removed over 70,000 links amid accusations it is trying to promote critical reactions to a EU court ruling by targeting major media outlets.

MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower

Ana Gomes, a socialist MEP from Portugal, has accused national authorities of erring on the side of corruption by detaining a whistleblower who helped expose tax evasion by some of Europe's biggest football stars.

News in Brief

  1. EU warns Turkey as 'Gezi Park' trials begin
  2. EU universities to share students, curricula
  3. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  4. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  5. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  6. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  7. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  8. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us