Google Inc. (GOOG) can’t be forced to remove material from its search engine that was legally posted on other websites, an adviser to the European Union’s top court said in a case that may set boundaries between free speech and data-protection rights.
Google can’t be considered “the controller” of personal data from other websites, Advocate General Niilo Jaeaeskinen of the EU Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion today.
“A national data protection authority cannot require an Internet search engine service provider to withdraw information from its index,” Jaeaeskinen said. The Luxembourg-based court follows this legal advice in a majority of cases.
The dispute before the EU’s top court raises questions about the scope of EU privacy rules related to personal data on the Internet and the rights of search engines to use any online data to remain commercially successful. The case was triggered by about 200 instances of Spain’s data-protection authority ordering Google to remove information on people.
Google faces privacy investigations around the world as it adds services and steps up competition with Facebook Inc. (FB) for users and advertisers. The Mountain View, California-based company created a uniform set of privacy policies last year for more than 60 products, unleashing criticism from regulators and consumer advocates over whether it was properly protecting data. Possible privacy issues with Google Glass, its new web-enabled eyeglasses, are also being reviewed.
The information in today’s case concerned a Spanish man whose house was auctioned off for failing to pay taxes. Newspaper La Vanguardia published the information in 1998 and years later it could still be found through a Google search.
“This is a good opinion for free expression,” Bill Echikson, a spokesman for Google, said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress ‘legitimate and legal information’ would amount to censorship.”
The case is: C-131/12, Google Spain, S.L., Google Inc. v. Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, Mario Costeja Gonzalez.
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