BERLIN — In a victory for Google Inc., the European Union’s highest court received a recommendation Tuesday to strike down a Spanish regulator’s demand that the search engine company grant citizens abroad the digital “right to be forgotten,” including the ability to delete arrest records and other negative publicity from Google’s online search results.
An expert opinion requested by the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, recommended that Google not be required to expunge all links to a 15-year-old legal notice documenting a Spanish man’s failure to pay back taxes.
The recommendation of the court’s advocate general, Niilo Jaaskinen, who acted as an official fact-finder for the panel, could inform the debate in the European Parliament over updating Europe’s 1995 data protection law, which was adopted at the dawn of the Internet broadband era. A proposal before the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the European Union’s upper legislative chamber, would give residents of the 27-nation bloc broader control over the display of personal information, including the digital “right to be forgotten.”
Jaaskinen concluded that because Google merely aggregated information on the Web and was not a “controller” of information, it was not the legal entity that must comply with the law in question.
In addition, Jaaskinen said the 1995 law guaranteed a right to be forgotten only in cases where information was incomplete or inaccurate, which was not at issue in the Spanish case.
Wishing to eliminate embarrassing information is not reason enough to redact public records via Google, the courtappointed expert concluded.
The case before the European court involved Mario Costeja, who wanted Google to eliminate links to a 1998 legal notice in a Barcelona newspaper, La Vanguardia, with details of a government auction of his property for failing to pay taxes.
The Court of Justice follows expert recommendations like the one announced Tuesday in about three-quarters of cases. A court ruling, which will give guidance to the Spanish high court, is expected this year.
William Echikson, who oversees Google’s freedom-of-expression activities in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, welcomed the advocate general’s recommendation.