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Europe's top court limits ‘right to be forgotten' privacy rule

[LONDON] Europe's highest court limited the reach of the landmark online privacy law known as "right to be forgotten" Tuesday, restricting people's ability to control what information is available about them on the internet.

In a decision with broad implications for the regulation of the internet, the European Court of Justice ruled that the privacy rule cannot be applied outside the European Union. In another ruling, the court said the right to free expression and information must be weighed carefully before deleting links related to certain categories of personal data.

The decisions more carefully define the scope of the right to be forgotten, which is a centrepiece of the European Union's internet privacy laws. The standard, which was established in 2014, can be used to force Google and other search engines to delete links to websites, news articles and databases that include personal information considered old, no longer relevant or not in the public interest.

The ruling to limit the geographical reach of the right to be forgotten is a victory for Google against a French effort to force the company and other search engines to take down links globally.

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The decision is likely to head off international disputes over the reach of European laws outside the 28-nation bloc. The court said Europe could not impose the right to be forgotten on countries that do not recognise the law.

Critics had raised concerns that if other countries, particularly more restrictive governments, adopted rules to force global takedowns it could lead to broad censorship of the internet.

"The balance between right to privacy and 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 in its decision.

The court said the right to be forgotten "is not an absolute right."

The cases cannot be appealed and national courts across the European Union must abide by the decisions.

Google has become a quasi-judicial authority on the right to be forgotten, determining what constitutes private information or not. It has received requests to take down more than 3.3 million links, and has granted about 45 per cent, according to company figures.

Google, which has created an internal team to review takedown requests, deletes links only within the European Union.