Google shouldn’t be forced to delete information about its users, a member of the European Court of Justice has written.
“A national data protection authority cannot require an internet search engine provider to withdraw information from its index,” advocate general Niilo Jaaskinen wrote in a court opinion, according to the BBC. Google is merely the portal for information appearing in the public domain, he added, and shouldn’t be expected to limit access to that data if someone happens to disagree with it.
Jaaskinen was opining on the case of a Spanish man who complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency about some of his outdated financial information still appearing via Google Web search; the agency upheld his petition to have those links removed. Google’s lawyers pushed back, and the case eventually reached the European Court of Justice, which is expected to decide on it before the end of the year. Although Jaaskinen’s opinion is nonbinding, the advocate general is considered a significant influence on the court.
“This is a good opinion for free expression,” Bill Echikson, a senior communications manager at Google, told the BBC. “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 opinion—and the court’s eventual decision—could factor heavily on the “Right to Be Forgotten” debate currently raging in Europe. Privacy advocates have argued that citizens have a right to control their online data, even to the point of wiping it out entirely. That “Right to Be Forgotten” does not exist in current EU law, and the particulars of a hypothetical statute remain unclear; considering that companies such as Google need user data in order to support advertising and revenue, it’s likely that any such legislation will provoke a bitter fight.
The current controversy over the scope of NSA spying programs has added more urgency to the debate. Whatever the court decides, it’s likely that the fight over privacy in the EU will be ongoing.