News / Europe

Google Vindicated By EU Court Opinion on Search Results

A computer monitor in Berlin displays information about Google+ service, seen through a magnifying glass, June 29, 2011
A computer monitor in Berlin displays information about Google+ service, seen through a magnifying glass, June 29, 2011
Reuters
Google must respect EU privacy law but is not obliged to delete sensitive information from its search index, an adviser to the highest European Union court said, in a case that tests whether people can have harmful content erased from the Web.
 
The adviser backed the Internet search giant's position that it cannot erase legal content from the internet even if it is harmful to an individual. But he rejected the view of many U.S. internet firms that they are not bound by EU privacy law.
 
“Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement setting out Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen's opinion.
 
While Internet-based firms operating in the European Union must adhere to national data protection laws, that did not oblige them to remove personal content produced by third parties, the statement said.
 
“Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the [EU's] Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they process.”
 
Lawyers agree that Google's search algorithms, which hunt and list weblinks based on how relevant they may be, would not be in a position to “know” whether data was personal or not.
 
“A search engine is just a tool,” said Eduardo Ustaran, a London-based lawyer from Field Fisher Waterhouse. “The nature of that information is irrelevant. It is just ones and zeros.”
 
A final judgment on the case is expected before the end of the year. Judges in the European Court of Justice are not bound by an advocate general's opinion, but follow such recommendations in the majority of cases.
 
The case stems from a complaint by a Spanish man that a public notice announcing that his home was up for auction after being repossessed infringed his privacy and should be deleted from Google's search results.
 
His case is one of 180 similar examples in Spain in which people have sought to have content deleted from Google searches. The other cases are on hold pending the EU court's decision.
 
The original auction announcement was from a Spanish newspaper, which said it was under a legal obligation to publish the notice.
 
Google welcomed the advocate general's opinion, saying it supported the company's view that deleting such content amounted to censorship.
 
“This is a good opinion for free expression,” said Bill Echikson, Google's head of free expression in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in an emailed statement.

The advertising business
 
But Internet companies may be disappointed at the opinion that they should follow EU privacy law even if the data is handled outside the European Union. Many internet firms maintain that handling data outside the 27-member bloc means they are not subject to EU privacy law.
 
The advocate general said that even the presence of an advertisings business, which is fundamental to the model of companies such as Google and which targets people in Spain, means they must follow EU law. If that view is upheld by the ECJ, it could put search firms under more pressure to protect the data of privacy-hungry Europeans.
 
EU to overhaul protection law
 
The European Union is finalizing a major overhaul of its 20-year-old data protection law that would make Internet companies follow EU rules if their services target European consumers.
 
The overhaul is part of a push for increased data privacy in Europe, which has gained urgency after revelation of a large-scale U.S. Internet spying program targeted at foreigners.
 
Google also faces fines in both Spain and France if it does not change its privacy policy, which allows it to collect and combine personal data across its services such as email and Youtube. Privacy watchdogs in several other countries are also assessing Google's services under their national rules.
 
The EU overhaul is also intended to give citizens “a right to be forgotten” even though it is not yet clear in what circumstances that right could be invoked. The advocate general said such a right does not exist in current legislation.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid