June 14, 2021

Fact Finder to European Court Backs Google in a Spanish Privacy Battle

An expert opinion requested by the European Court of Justice, which is based in Luxembourg, recommended that Google not be required to expunge all links to a 15-year-old legal notice published in a Barcelona newspaper documenting a Spanish man’s failure to pay back taxes.

The recommendation of the court’s advocate general, Niilo Jaaskinen, who acted as an official fact finder for the panel, could inform the debate in the European Parliament over updating Europe’s 1995 data protection law, which was adopted at the dawn of the Internet broadband era. A proposal before the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the European Union’s upper legislative chamber, would give residents of the 27-nation bloc broader control over the display of personal information, including the digital “right to be forgotten.”

Mr. Jaaskinen concluded that because Google merely aggregated information on the Web and was not a “controller” of information, it was not the legal entity that must comply with the provision of the law in question.

In addition, Mr. Jaaskinen said the 1995 law guaranteed a right to be forgotten only in cases where information was incomplete or inaccurate, which was not at issue in the Spanish case.

Wishing to eliminate embarrassing information is not reason enough to redact public records via Google, the court-appointed expert concluded.

The 1995 law, the court recommendation said, “does not entitle a person to restrict or terminate dissemination of personal data that he considers to be harmful or contrary to his interests.”

The case before the European court involved a Spaniard, Mario Costeja, who wanted Google to eliminate all links to a 1998 legal notice in a Barcelona newspaper, La Vanguardia, with details of a government auction of his property for failure to pay back taxes. One of Spain’s top courts in Madrid, the Audiencia Nacional, asked the European court last year for guidance on how to apply the 1995 law.

The Court of Justice follows expert recommendations like the one announced Tuesday in about three-quarters of cases. A court ruling, which will give guidance to the Spanish high court, is expected this year.

William Echikson, who oversees Google’s freedom-of-expression activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, welcomed the advocate general’s recommendation.

“This is a good opinion for free expression,” Mr. Echikson said. “We’re glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress legitimate and legal information would amount to censorship.”

Javier Aparicio, a privacy lawyer with Cuatrecasas Goncalves Pereira in Madrid, said the court’s recommendation would compel the Spanish data regulator, the Spanish Data Protection Agency, to end its practice of trying to compel Google to redact its own search results to suit the desires of Spanish citizens.

The Spanish regulator said in a statement that it noted the advocate general’s opinion, but declined to comment on the recommendations before the European court’s decision.

The agency said its policy of requesting deletions on behalf of Spanish citizens was not meant to squelch free expression or alter the historical record. Deletions were requested of Google only in cases where information was “obsolete, lacked any relevance or public interest, and where widespread dissemination would lead to the harm of the applicant,” the statement said.

Spain had been particularly aggressive in enforcing parts of the 1995 law’s prohibition against storing data on criminal and administrative infractions of individuals.

In the last five years, the regulator has filed 180 requests with Google on behalf of Spanish citizens seeking the deletion of links to criminal convictions, administrative sanctions, involvement in child custody disputes and arrests where charges were dropped. Google has consistently refused the requests.

Spanish law gives individuals a broad right to limit the “indiscriminate” dissemination of personal data, even when the original publication was legitimate, if the information “no longer has relevance or public interest,” according to a statement by the regulator, which is based in Madrid.

Google has challenged the requests in Spanish court, arguing that it provides digital links to information only already in the Spanish public domain. Google also has said that the 1995 European law’s exemption of “platforms” included Web services like the Google search engine, which is the market leader in Spain.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/business/global/european-court-opinion-favors-google-in-privacy-battle.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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