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Google to challenge French “right to be forgotten” ruling

Posted by Sam Frances on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 at 12:00

Google is to challenge a ruling by the French data protection authority (CNIL), which in July 2015 ruled that “the right to be forgotten” required the search engine to remove affected search results globally, rather than just within Europe.

“As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand,” said Google general counsel Kent Walker, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries - perhaps less open and democratic - start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?

This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France. This is not just a hypothetical concern. We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds – and we have resisted, even if that has sometimes led to the blocking of our services.

The “right to be forgotten” originated in a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in May 2014, which held that an individual could demand that search engines or other websites remove “irrelevant or outdated” information about them.

In July 2015, the CNIL ruled that Google’s system for dealing with “right to be forgotten” requests, which ensured that relevant search listings could not be accessed from within Europe, was not sufficient, and that delisting should apply globally.

Google is seeking to have the CNIL’s ruling overturned in France’s highest court, the Conseil d’État. The case will have important implications for the scope of the “right to be forgotten” in and beyond Europe.

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