Google’s EU Court Case Will Test ‘Right to Be Forgotten’

Google Inc. faces a European Union court ruling tomorrow on whether it can be ordered to remove material from its search engine in a case that may set boundaries between publishing freedom and privacy rights.

The EU Court of Justice has been asked to weigh in on a Spanish dispute over the so-called right to be forgotten, where people can request Web companies to delete personal information on their servers. The European Commission proposed such a right in 2012 as part of an overhaul of data-protection rules that may be finalized later this year.

“The case is about whether an individual can ask to have a link to a news story suppressed in Google search results because the news story is no longer current or accurate,” said Richard Cumbley, a lawyer at Linklaters LLP in London. “It would be deeply ironic” if the court found that such a right existed even before the EU made it law, he said.

In tomorrow’s case, a Spanish tribunal sought advice from the EU’s top court after Google challenged an order from the national data privacy watchdog to remove information on a man whose house was auctioned off for failure to pay taxes, one of 200 instances where Spain has asked Google to pull content.

The EU court has also been asked to clarify whether Google, based in Mountain View, California, controls personal data and if it must apply EU privacy law.

Google faces privacy investigations around the world as it adds services and steps up competition with Facebook Inc. for users and advertisers. The company was fined 1 million euros ($1.38 million) in Italy last month over privacy violations by its Street View cars, which photographed people across the country without their knowledge.

Google Search

The operator of the world’s largest search engine argued in a February hearing that it isn’t a data “controller” and shouldn’t be asked to remove information from its search engine that it is published legally elsewhere. Newspaper La Vanguardia published the information in the case in 1998 and years later it could still be found through a Google search.

The dispute raises questions about the scope of EU privacy rules when it comes to personal data on the Internet; the rights of search engines to use any online data to remain commercially successful; and who ultimately is in charge of what happens with the data. The Luxembourg-based court’s ruling will be binding on courts across the 28-nation bloc.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, declined to comment on the case ahead of the ruling.

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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