Europe’s top court rules that ‘right to be forgotten’ only applies in Europe

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that Google doesn’t have to de-reference at a global scale results related to the so-called “right to be forgotten.”

Europe’s top court also reminds Google and other search engines that it doesn’t change anything when it comes to the right to be forgotten in Europe. Google still has to de-reference results for all of the 28 Member States of the European Union.

“Thus, the Court concludes that, currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject, as the case may be, following an injunction from a supervisory or judicial authority of a Member State, to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the court said in its decision.

Google and other search engines started implementing the right to be forgotten in 2014. As a European citizen, if you can find sensitive information about you when you query your name, you can ask search engines to delist those results.

If a link gets delisted, you won’t be able to find it when you search for a name when you’re in Europe. Google de-references pages at a regional level and applies the right to be forgotten on local versions of its search engine — Google uses IP addresses and geo-blocking.

But the CNIL, France’s data protection agency, fined Google in 2016, saying that regional delisting wasn’t enough. According to the CNIL, Google should have removed those results at a global level to comply with the law.

Google first filed an appeal in France and the case ended up at the Court of Justice of the European Union. According to Google, global delistings had the potential to damage free speech and help authoritarian regimes de-reference sensitive stuff from the search results.

And Europe’s top court agrees, to some degree. “In addition, the balance between the right to privacy and the protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world,” the court said.

Earlier this year, an advisor to Europe’s top court also said that the right to be forgotten should be limited to Europe.

European citizens living outside of the European Union or people living in the European Union who use a VPN server could potentially access delisted results.

That’s why Europe’s top court says that search engines should take measures to “prevent or, at the very least, seriously discourage an internet user conducting a search from one of the Member States on the basis of a data subject’s name from gaining access, via the list of results displayed following that search, through a version of that search engine outside the EU, to the links which are the subject of the request for de-referencing.”