The ECJ’s troubling “right to be forgotten” ruling

On Tuesday the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Google violated a Spanish man’s right to privacy by not taking down search results pointing to an auction the man ran to pay off some debts. Note that the ECJ didn’t say that the documents that Google points to have to be taken down, just the pointers themselves, which seems odd. Also, the ruling is just the ECJ’s agreement that the case has merit. It’s up to a Spanish court to now actually enforce the deletion and fine Google should it fail to comply.

The so-called “right to be forgotten” is fairly new in EU law (it appeared in 2012) and can’t exist in the US since it’s in opposition to the First Amendment. Unfortunately, it’s rooted in concepts that don’t exactly have counterparts online. It’s one thing to restrict access to things like juvenile arrest records, since they usually exist in only one place. But the documents at the heart of the Spanish man’s case still exist on the Net and plenty of other sites link to them, with plenty more resulting from the publicity this case has generated. Will Google be barred from pointing to these sites? Right now, no one knows.

 

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