Google’s chief lawyer has criticised two European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases on the right to be forgotten, claiming they infringe on the public’s ‘right to know.’
Kent Walker, SVP and general counsel at the Mountain View behemoth, wrote in a blog post that the two cases ‘threaten the balance’ that Google has looked to pursue when assessing requests to be delisted.
In Europe, citizens are legally able to ask for information about themselves to be removed from search results if they believe it is outdated or irrelevant. Walker states that ‘from the outset, we have publicly stated our concerns about the ruling, but we have still worked hard to comply’, and that Google has delisted more than 800,000 search results on the continent.
In the process of doing this, it has always been keen to strike a balance between the right to be forgotten and the right of the public to know information about fellow citizens. Appellants in one case currently in the ECJ contest that as European law protects sensitive data, which includes matters such as political beliefs and criminal records, those details should also be delisted.
Walker argues that this is a significant infringement on the public’s right to know, and would not take public interest into account – writing that ‘if the Court accepted this argument, it would give carte blanche to people who might wish to use privacy laws to hide information of public interest—like a politician’s political views, or a public figure’s criminal record.’
The second case relates to how the right to be forgotten is extended around the world. The ECJ is tasked with deciding whether companies like Google should be required to enforce it globally, and not just in Europe.
This, Walker believes, ‘runs contrary to the basic principles of international law: no one country should be able to impose its rules on the citizens of another country, especially when it comes to linking to lawful content.’
He argues that it would also open the gates to other countries, including those with less regard to democracy, imposing their values on citizens in the rest of the world.
These issues are tightly entwined with the upcoming GDPR, through which rules around data will be enforced significantly more strictly. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), states that citizens’ ‘right to erasure’ also applies when ‘personal data was unlawfully processed (i.e. otherwise in breach of the GDPR).’
Walker states that Google ‘will argue in court for a reasonable interpretation of the right to be forgotten and for the ability of countries around the world to set their own laws, not have those of others imposed on them.’