EU vs Google - a step towards internet censorship?

May 13th a ruling came from the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) that some have characterized as the first, broader legal step towards internet censorship. Yet others claim that this law, for the first time ever, may provide the general public with a tool to request removal of irrelevant, inadequate or incorrect information from the the search indexes. To what extent can or will such a ruling be an instrument of censorship? Or to what degree will can it have an impact on you and me, whatever information is out there, about us or connected to us?

Brief introduction to the background

The lawsuit that led to the ruling of May 13th 2014 dates back to 2010, but the original case that led to the lawsuit and later ruling actually dates back to 1998. A Spanish citizen, Mr. Mario Costeja González, who's name was printed in an ad in a newspaper, related to a forced sale of a property, appeared on Google search years after the sale had been concluded. González, having contacted Google to have the link/reference removed, subsequently lodged a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (Agencia Española de Protección de Datos or AEPD). Asking that both the original newspaper that printed the original ad, as well as Google Spain and Google Inc. were required to remove the links to the data. On 30 July 2010, the Director of APED rejected the complaint against the newspaper but upheld the complaint against Google Spain and Google Inc., calling on them to remove the links complained of and make access to the data impossible.

And the ball kept on rolling....

Google Spain and Google Inc. subsequently brought separate actions against the decision before the Audiencia Nacional (National High Court of Spain). The Audiencia Nacional joined the actions and stayed the proceedings pending a preliminary ruling from the CJEU on a number of questions regarding the interpretation of the Directive 95/46/EC (Data Protection Directive). These questions fell into three groups, which is essence concerned:

  1. the territorial scope of the Directive
  2. the legal position of an internet search engine service provider under the Directive, especially in terms of its material scope
  3. whether the Directive establishes a so-called right to be forgotten

All of these questions, also raising important points of fundamental rights protection, were new to the Court. Because new points of law were involved, the opinion of an EU Advocate General was sought by the Court.

The Judgement by the CJEU

The full document you can find here but in brief:

The request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 2(b) and (d), Article 4(1)(a) and (c), Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (OJ 1995 L 281, p. 31) and of Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).

The request has been made in proceedings between, on the one hand, Google Spain SL (‘Google Spain’) and Google Inc. and, on the other, the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (Spanish Data Protection Agency; ‘the AEPD’) and Mr Costeja González concerning a decision by the AEPD upholding the complaint lodged by Mr Costeja González against those two companies and ordering Google Inc. to adopt the measures necessary to withdraw personal data relating to Mr Costeja González from its index and to prevent access to the data in the future.

Want to have links/information removed from Google?

I doubt it's going to be a straight forward matter, even after the above judgment. But those who would like to try use this form. Be advised though that the evaluation will be done case-by-case, applies only to citizens of EU Countries (at this time) and may take a long time to produce an outcome the sort you'd like. You will be required to provide both legal documentation as well as an explanation on why you request removal of information or links.

In my personal opinion you might be more successful or have more rapid success by countering the outdated, irrelevant information with your own presence on the web. Basically take over the search engines's front pages by producing your own information. This too however, might take some time. I've written a blog about this topic you can read here. But who knows, where some may fail you might succeed.

What is certain however is that it is an interesting case, there is an awful lot of irrelevant information indexed that, even if if doesn't harm anyone directly, does breed information inconsistency. While in pursuit of higher quality of information maybe what the internet needs is some form of filtering or alteration of filtering, instigated by an individual right to contest data presence. I think however, that there's a very fine line between inconsitency or irrelevancy (subjective matters) and censorship.

Add new comment