EU Court Rules Google Must Delete Links When Requested

May 13, 2014
Originally published on May 14, 2014 4:49 am

Europe’s highest court says Google users in Europe have a right to ask the company to remove links about themselves. The surprise decision by the European Union’s highest court comes as regulators are trying to tighten online privacy protections.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Bellini tells Here & Now’s Robin Young about the ruling, and the implications for Google and other search engine operators.

Video: Jason Bellini explains the privacy ruling against Google


  • Jason Bellini, senior producer at the Wall Street Journal. He tweets @jasonbellini.
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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

The European Union's highest court has rules that Google must allow users in Europe to delete links about themselves. Imagine, old drunk driving stories, bad divorces, bankruptcies all can go unless there's a compelling reason not to, a determination that they serve some public interest.

Jason Bellini is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Welcome, as always, Jason.

JASON BELLINI: Thank you so much, Robin. I'm sure that you're going to be emailing Google about some of those incidents in the past.

YOUNG: Well, no, no, I don't have any on that list. But this suit was brought by a Spaniard, Mario Costeja, I believe it is, who found old articles about himself that had to do with old debts and being forced to sell his house and things that he felt were no longer relevant to his life. He brought the suit. Under something called the Right to be Forgotten. Tell us more.

BELLINI: That's right. I mean, you know, it's interesting. There were several people in Spain, and way back, all the way to, you know, 1991. There was one person who was involved in the suit named Hugo Guidotti, a Madrid surgeon, and he'd asked Google to remove a link to a 1991 report in a Spanish newspaper, El Pais, about a malpractice against him after and alleged botched breast surgery.

And the links just keep turning up every time people search for his name. And so his case, and several others, they all went to several layers of court until finally, finally it reached the Luxembourg-based court where they made the decision that because surf results linked to a person's name have such a huge impact on their lives, they should have a right to get certain material removed under that Right to be Forgotten that you mentioned.

YOUNG: Yeah, the Right to be Forgotten stems from a law in Europe. But, just how is this going to work? Because, a couple questions. First of all, we said there has to be a compelling reason not to let someone delete something, a determination it would serve some public interest.

Well, I can see lenders or future employers saying I need to know if somebody had debts or had a for sale of a home. I can see patients saying it's compelling for me. I need to know if somebody was accused of having botched surgery. Who decides?

BELLINI: It's interesting. And, you know, who this actually might be good for are some of the private services out there that do collect data on individuals, and they make their service more of a premium. And, you know, we as journalists have access to some tools where we can get home addresses, phone numbers, court records, all the rest very easily. This is just going to make it harder.

And, you know, the court is not requiring the search engines to remove this content. They're just saying you've got to get rid of the links that link people's names because it kind of creates basically a dossier on individuals, and that's the problem. It creates this profile of them that's too easy for people to access.

But the information itself, it will still be out there.

YOUNG: Well, let's pick up on that, because as you just said, there are going to be some questions about who gets to decide which links can be erased, but they're only erased from Google's search engine. So, for instance, if it's a newspaper that's carrying a negative article, they still have their online site, that article is still going to be there.

BELLINI: Yes, it will still be there. The newspapers themselves will be under no obligation to remove them. And, you know, companies won't be able to get out of the compliance, like Google and Bing, won't be able to get out of compliance simply by saying their servers are outside of Europe.

Courts in EU member states have to use the high court's ruling as a guide, and that would mean that the privacy and that Right to be Forgotten will really look different all across the EU. And that's the interesting point here, is that it's really unclear how this is going to work because, you know, will Google have to set up an entire service. Because you can imagine all the people who want to get information, links removed.

YOUNG: No, I - yeah, I can imagine. And of course the other question is will it come here? Will there be a lawsuit here? Stay tuned. Jason Bellini of the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

BELLINI: Thank you Robin.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW.

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