The EU’s top court has ruled that Google does not have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.
It means the firm only needs to remove links from its search results in Europe – and not elsewhere – after receiving an appropriate request.
The ruling stems from a dispute between Google and a French privacy regulator.
In 2015, CNIL ordered the firm to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.
The following year, Google introduced a geoblocking feature that prevents European users from being able to see delisted links.
But it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world. And the firm challenged a 100,000 ($109,901; £88,376) euro fine that CNIL had tried to impose.
“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… to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the European Court of Justice ruling said.
What is the right to be forgotten?
Also known as the “right to erasure”, the rule gives EU citizens the power to demand data about them be deleted.
In the case of search engines, Europeans have had the right to request links to pages containing sensitive personal information about them be removed since 2014.
But the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force in 2018, added further obligations.
Members of the public can make a request to any organisation “verbally or in writing” and the recipient has one month to respond. They then have a range of considerations to weigh up to decide whether they are compelled to comply or not.
Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses were it to be applied outside of Europe.
“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” the firm said in a statement following the ECJ ruling.
“It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments.”
The tech firm had been supported by Microsoft, Wikipedia’s owner the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the UK freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, among others.
ECJ adviser Maciej Szpunar had also concluded that the right to be forgotten be limited to Europe in a non-binding recommendation to the court earlier this year.
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There has been a lot of interest in the case since, had the ruling gone the other way, it could have been viewed as an attempt by Europe to police a US tech giant beyond the EU’s borders.
Those wanting to read the full ruling were frustrated in the hour following its release because the ECJ’s own website crashed.