Google applied a May 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice that allows users to ask search engines to delist links with personal information about them. It has since then set up a platform allowing anyone who wishes to be delisted from links to do so. The CNIL, the French data protection authority, asked Google to apply this globally and not only for google.fr and other European sites.
The move highlights a growing legal crisis for the internet.
“This could clearly be a pure technical issue and the question is whether this decision of the court of justice can be given a full application” said Pascale Gelly, the vice president of French Association of Data Protection Officer. “The CNIL position is that all websites around the world have to be impacted by that decision because otherwise, the decision is not given full effect. Clearly what matters is that the decision is given full effect.”
Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer posted online.
“While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally. We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access. We also believe this order is disproportionate and unnecessary, given that the overwhelming majority of French internet users—currently around 97%—access a European version of Google’s search engine like google.fr, rather than Google.com or any other version of Google.
There are numerous examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others: Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws content that is deemed to be “gay propaganda."
“This is a very difficult debate because in many cases, it is important to protect the right to privacy and to do so at a global level, but it can also be difficult to make a judgment” said Felix Treguer, from the Squaring of the Net, an advocacy group that promotes digital rights and freedoms of citizens.
“For instance, when countries such as Iran, or other countries with little respect for freedom of expression decide that, for example, content regarding homosexual practices for example, is illegal, and order Google in Iran to take down that content at a global level, we, in western democracies, and many people around the world would think this goes too far.”
It begs the question of freedom of speech, but also of how much privacy a person is allowed to have as well. Google is a private body, and whereas the company agrees to follow the law of each country, its biggest concern right now is not just finding out if a request meets the court’s “irrelevant” and "inadequate" criteria, but deciding how far it must go to delete the requests.
“There are two viewpoints to be protected” said Pascale Gelly. “Who should prevail? Freedom of the individual? Or freedom of information? It seems that in the country where the individual is based, he has considered he had rights to claim, information about him has been considered by authorities that he had the right to be delisted from the internet. Maybe that right should prevail.”
Google also said that if the CNIL’s proposed approach was to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.