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French court says Google images violate privacy law

LONDON — A French court ruled Wednesday that Google must remove from its Internet search results all images of a former Formula One racing chief at an orgy. The ruling in the privacy case could have ramifications for the tech giant’s operations across Europe.

Max Mosley, the former president of the International Automobile Federation, had filed the lawsuit in September to force Google to automatically filter from its search engine links to images from a British newspaper report in 2008 that included photos and a video of Mosley participating in a sadomasochistic sex party.

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The former F1 head successfully sued the News of the World in a London court for breach of privacy and was awarded about $96,000, in damages.

On Wednesday, the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris backed Mosley’s attempts to force Google to block references to the images from appearing in Google’s search results worldwide. The company said it would appeal the decision.

Mosley argued that French law made it illegal to take and distribute images of an individual in a private space without that person’s permission. But Google said that would limit freedom of speech, forcing the company to block search results without any person or court overseeing the context in which the images appeared.

Analysts said the ruling against Google could lead to greater restrictions on what was accessible through search results and could prompt more people to demand that the technology company remove references to their private activities.

“At this point in time, the pendulum is swinging toward individuals’ privacy and away from freedom of speech,” said Carsten Casper, a privacy and security analyst at the consulting firm Gartner in Berlin.

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The ruling represents the latest effort by privacy advocates in Europe to limit how individuals’ data is disseminated online. European policy makers already are working on regulations that would restrict how companies use and share consumers’ information, particularly with firms outside the European Union.

As part of the settlement ordered by the French court on Wednesday, Google will have to filter out nine images of Mosley from its worldwide search results. The company must pay him 1 euro in compensation, and it will be fined 1,000 euros every time that an image is found through its search engine, starting at the beginning of next year.

“It’s a fair decision,” said Clara Zerbib, a lawyer at the law firm Reed Smith in Paris who represented Mosley in the lawsuit. “This case isn’t about censoring information, but about complying with French law.”

Mosley has won a previous court case in France, which ruled that the recording of the images connected to the British newspaper story was illegal.

Google said it already had removed from its search results hundreds of images that violated that ruling.

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