Google Fights Attempt to Erase Conviction Links

In London, Google is fighting a businessman in court as to whether individuals have the right to erase old convictions from online search results. Commentators believe that this is one of the first cases to test whether a person has a “right to be forgotten.” This will be the final step in a three-year legal battle between Google and France to determine how far the search engine must go to guarantee the privacy of European citizens who want their past to be wiped from the record.

Because of a court order, the man at the center of the case cannot be identified. Nonetheless, he is aiming to remove links about an accountancy conspiracy that he was convicted of in the late 1990’s. Under English law, that conviction does not have to be disclosed to employers and can essentially be ignored. However, a simple Google search about this particular individual brings up information relating to the conviction. Thus, the intentions of the law are rendered meaningless by the accessibility of information on the internet.

If Google wins, opponents argue that the right to be forgotten becomes meaningless. This right, which has been recognized by EU courts recently, requires Google to remove links that are inadequate, irrelevant or excessive in light of the time that has passed. This includes data that was initially accurate and published legally but has since become incompatible with present circumstances. Moreover, opponents argue that the right is valuable only if it is applied universally. More specifically, the right cannot just be limited to England or France, because a curious internet searcher could fake their IP address to a non-EU country and find this information quite easily.

On the other side, Google argues that this right needs to be limited. The search giant argues that the extension of this right would pose a legitimate risk for Google in that other countries may attempt to force the search giant to universalize their restrictions on the internet. For example, Thailand or Russia could attempt to force Google to apply their more egregious limitations on freedom of speech worldwide. Moreover, Google believes that it is already working hard to comply with the right to be forgotten but does not believe that the right extends to information that is “clearly in the public interest and will defend the public’s right to access lawful information.”

Thus, at the heart of the dispute is a balancing act between the right to a private life and the right to freedom of speech and expression. In making a determination in this case, the judge will have to consider each side and make a determination as to which has a higher merit in this instance. Additionally, the ruling will likely have to specify search engines need only delete information in the country that requests it, across the EU or globally. If Google does not prevail, the search giant will likely be forced to remove over two million search results.