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Google Argues Privacy Right Is Wrong in Clash With French Czar

  • Fleischer sees risks in applying the EU right across the world
  • EU and French privacy chief says Google position is ‘absurd’

Google’s top privacy chief attacked France’s bid to extend the so-called right-to-be-forgotten to global search results, saying internet freedom would be brushed aside if less democratic parts of the world embraced the same policy.

Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, said the company will continue to fight an attempt by French privacy authority CNIL to force the search-engine giant to remove links to contentious content from global search results, not just its local French site.

“This is not hyperbole -- if the CNIL’s approach of global removals were to be embraced as the standard internet regulation, in the end the world of internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,” said Fleischer, who was sharing the podium with the French agency’s head, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin.

The European Union’s highest court, in a precedent-setting ruling in May 2014, created a right to be forgotten -- allowing people to seek the deletion of links on search engines if the information was outdated or irrelevant. While the ruling is only valid in the 28-nation bloc, Google has clashed in the French courts over CNIL’s attempt to apply the ruling beyond EU domains.

Not ‘About Money’

“There are important principles at stake here. This is not a fight about money or commercial interest,” Fleischer said. “The right to be forgotten as defined by the EU Court of Justice is a European right. It is not the law of the rest of the world.”

“If today, CNIL could order Google, or whoever, to do a global removal of content that is undesirable or illegal under their national law, worldwide, then nothing will stop every other country, 196 countries in the world after all, to say here’s content that is illegal in my country under my law, democratic or not, and I’m ordering you Google to remove it globally,” he said.

Following Google’s position would mean that this content would be gone from all European domain names, but could still be found when searching on Google.com, said Falque-Pierrotin. “This is absurd,” she said.

“The reasoning of the CNIL is rather simple: it says that once Google is operating in Europe, and for various reasons, is submitted to the European law,” but data is being treated globally, she said.

The Google dispute with the French regulator has to be solved by the courts, said Falque-Pierrotin, who also heads a panel of European privacy watchdogs.

“It’s important that a judge, whether a French judge or a European judge, sets the tone because it’s a key question,” she said. “It’s not a question of freedom of expression and it’s not a question of imperialism of European law.”

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