European Union High Court Creates “Right to be Forgotten”; Says Google Must Sometimes Comply with Individual Requests to Delete Links

On May 13, 2014, the European Court of Justice held Google must comply with a Spanish citizen’s request that Google delete links to two unflattering web articles.  The two articles, which were published in 1998, detail the circumstances surrounding the auction of the citizen’s home to satisfy then-outstanding (and since resolved) social security debts.  The Court held Google must delete the links to the web articles because the information in the web articles is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant."

Decisions by the European Court of Justice are not appealable and apply to the entire E.U., which includes 28 countries.  Importantly, although this case will certainly enliven internet privacy advocates in America, this decision does not apply to the United States.  And furthermore, because internet postings are protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is almost impossible to imagine a U.S. law or court decision could legally order a search engine to remove a link merely because the content of the web page is “no longer relevant.”

It is difficult to forecast how search engines will manage the logistics of complying with the E.U. decision.  There is also serious concern that it is unjust to make search engines responsible for removing links to web pages when it was not the search engine, but rather the web page’s author that posted the offending web page in the first place.  Time will tell how these and other issues arising from the decision are resolved.  But for now, the internet just became is a little less forever in the E.U.

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