Google Inc. challenged five rulings by Spain’s data privacy agency ordering the company to exclude content from its search results at the country’s National Court.
Google lawyers told the Madrid court that regulators are harming the freedom of expression by forcing the company to remove information from search results generated from data on third-party web sites. The agency is classifying Google as a publisher of information, rather than an intermediary, the lawyer, Javier Aparicio, said today.
“We are disappointed by the actions of the Spanish privacy regulator,” said Peter Barron, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, in an e-mailed statement. “Requiring intermediaries like search engines to censor material published by others would have a profound chilling effect on free expression without protecting people.”
The case in Madrid pits considerations of privacy, and the so-called “right to be forgotten” that is enshrined in Spanish law, against those of freedom of expression. Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, has been criticized over privacy issues in European countries, including the display of some images on its Street View mapping service.
Spain’s Agency for Data Protection ordered Google’s Spanish unit to remove content from its search results in five separate rulings. One is connected to content on a media website, which is protected from having to remove the data from its own pages by freedom of expression laws, and four concern data published by official gazettes, which enjoy similar legal protections.
“Google has never addressed the underlying question, the right of citizens to protect their information,” said Jose Antonio Perales Gallego, a lawyer for the government.
Padraig Reidy, news editor at Index on Censorship, a London-based organization that promotes freedom of expression, said if the court upholds the agency’s ruling it would mean a “fundamental shift in how the Internet works.”
“Should it go ahead, it’s a calamity because it means Google and other search engines fundamentally shift to the role of publisher, and it makes them responsible for everything that appears on the Internet,” he said in a telephone interview.
The Spanish agency has ruled in 90 matters connected to Google after requests by citizens on data protection grounds, said an official at the body, who declined to be named in line with policy. They include publication of notices of debts, details on the victims of domestic violence, and sanctions imposed on officials that may affect their safety, he said.