The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Tuesday ruled that search engines, in some cases, must remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from the search results.
The case highlighted the battle between free speech advocates and supporters of privacy rights, who claim that people should have to remove their digital traces from the internet.
The decision upholds “right to be forgotten,” and found that search engines like Google were the “controller” of information and are responsible for removing unwanted links if requested.
“An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties,” ECJ said in a statement about the ruling.
The ruling came after a Spanish man complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results infringed his privacy. This case is one of the 180 similar cases in Spain whose complainants have requested Google to remove their sensitive information from the search results.
According to the ECJ, the information that had to be removed could “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed.”
Google, in response to the ruling, said in a statement, “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the advocate general’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications.”
ECJ also noted that Google and other search engines will be obliged to “duly examine” all the removal requests on their merits, and in case of any requests declined, the complainant can take their case to the most relevant authority.