If you live in the European Union, you may be able to rewrite history after all.
The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, ruled earlier this month that European users should have the right to be forgotten on the Internet. It decided there were certain cases in which Google, et al. should allow online users to be “forgotten” after a certain time by erasing links to web pages “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public.”
Thus, Google and other Internet companies could be “obliged to remove web pages” even if the original “publication in itself on those pages is lawful,” should a European user so petition. If the provider doesn’t grant a user’s direct request to remove the link to the offending information, the user can take the matter to the appropriate authorities to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal at the Internet company’s expense.
The officials will determine how the removal of links could affect the “legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to that information” and the individual’s fundamental right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data. The decision depends on the “nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary, in particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life,” observed the court.
That means, ultimately, that Google and like companies will need to become more actively involved in refereeing complaints from users about information carried online, reported the New York Times; they will no longer operate as a single, worldwide forum for people’s information.
“This sounds like a landmark judgment,” said Peter Hustinx, a top European Union official for data protection. “The court is saying that Google isn’t just selling adverts in Europe, but is providing content along with those services. If you are a regular citizen, it gives you a remedy anywhere in Europe for you to ask companies to take down content connected to you.”
The court’s judgment came as a surprise to Google and many others because it differed so dramatically from a preliminary ruling by the court last June that seemed to let Google off the hook for removing links. Google stated that the court’s final decision was “a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general,” and that it would take time to analyze the implications.