On Tuesday 24 September, the highest court in Europe decided in a landmark ruling that in response to a request for the right to be forgotten, Google needs only to remove references to online material from its search results in Europe, not worldwide.
This clarifies the law in respect of the territorial reach of the right to be forgotten. It will be of great significance to claimants who are considering making such a request in order to have links to irrelevant, outdated, no longer relevant or excessive personal information removed from all versions of the search engine.
In this case, Google had been fined €100,000 by France’s privacy regulator, CNIL, for refusing to comply with a global delisting request. Google challenged the ruling, resisting the obligation to remove the links globally rather than only in Europe where the search results had been delisted following the implementation of geoblocking technology. The point was referred to the ECJ for its guidance.
The ECJ’s decision that Google is only obliged to delist from the European versions of its search engine means that if a request is made and complied with by Google, it will remove the relevant results from its European sites as well as from Google.com if the user’s IP address is located in Europe. What it will not do is delist its results from its search engine globally.
The decision is significant, and it emphasises the conflict between the right to privacy and freedom of expression. It will be of concern to claimants seeking the right to be forgotten to be applied on a global level not only because any agreement and/or order to delist will not extend to versions of Google’s search engine accessed from outside of Europe but importantly as a result of its non-global application, the information will remain visible to users within Europe who access a version of Google’s search engine by using a VPN to hide their location.