Google not bound to remove personal data from web pages

Latest ruling comes as a relief for Google.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images.

A key adviser to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that Google is not required to remove web pages containing personal information from its search engine.

Niilo Jaaskinen, advocate-general of the ECJ, recommended that the company cannot be held responsible for the content uploaded on the web by third parties and the current EU rules don't include the right to be forgotten. He, however, maintained that the EU data protection laws will be binding on the search engine.

The lawyer was talking in reference to a case filed by a private individual in a Spanish court, which has referred it to the ECJ for guidance in 2009.

Citing recommendations of Jaaskinen, the ECJ said in a statement: “Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression.

“Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they process.”

The advocate-general’s recommendation, which can play a key role in the court’s final hearing, may contradict the EU’s proposed data legislation right to be forgotten.

Bill Echikson, head of free expression for Europe at Google, said: “This is a good opinion for free expression. 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.”

Earlier in February, data-protection authorities of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the Netherlands have launched joint action against Google for violating the European Union privacy rules.