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Google, The Law and Your 'Right To Be Forgotten'

A businessman has won the "right to be forgotten" by Google after taking his case to the High Court, because he wanted a past crime he had committed to be removed from Google’s search engine results.

What Crime?

The (un-named) businessman was hoping to remove details from Google of a conviction from 10 years ago, and of the six months jail sentence he was given for ‘conspiring to intercept communications'. The businessman was forced to take Google to court after Google refused his requests to have the information removed from its search engine results. The man’s legal argument was that the details of his past conviction were disproportionately impacting his life, and were no longer relevant, and therefore, it was not it was not in the public or the man’s interest for Google to show the details in searches.

What Does The “Right To Be Forgotten” Mean?

The legal precedent for what has become known as ‘the right to be forgotten’ was set by the Court of Justice of the European Union back in 2014. It was the result of a case brought by Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez who had asked Google to remove information about his financial history from its search engine results.

In this particular case, the ‘right to be forgotten’ means that Google has to remove all search results about the businessman’s conviction, including links to news articles.

Had Shown Remorse

The judge ruled in favour of the businessman, stating that he had shown remorse. Google has said that it will respect the judgement made in the case and pointed out that it has removed 800,000 pages from its results following ‘right to be forgotten’ requests.

Not So Lucky

Another businessman who also brought a ‘right to be forgotten’ case against Google, and who had committed a more serious crime of ‘conspiring to account falsely’ was not so lucky, and lost his case. It was decided, in the High Court, that the man, who had spent four years in jail for the crime, had "mislead the public”, and that it would still be in the public interest for Google to keep the information about the man and his crimes in the search engine results.

Less Than Half

Google’s own Transparency Report from May this year revealed that of the 2.4 million requests made since 2014 to remove certain URLs from its search results, Google has only complied with less than half. Google doesn’t actually have to comply with a request, and can refuse to take links down if can demonstrate that there is a public interest in the information remaining in the search results. Google can also re-instate links that it has already taken down in a previous request if it can show that it has grounds to do so.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is good news that powerful international tech companies whose services are widely used, and who have the power to influence opinion and affect lives can sometimes be held accountable to national courts. There is a strong argument that they should not be a law unto themselves, and that they may not always be the best party to judge what is in the public interest.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ is particularly significant because it is something that all EU citizens will have when GDPR comes into force next month. This will impact businesses, many of whom may expect to receive ‘right to be forgotten’ requests, and will need to get their data management in order to both comply with GDPR generally, and to be able to respond quickly to such requests and avoid possible fines.

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