05:23 - Source: CNN
Will privacy ruling change the Internet?

Story highlights

Europe's top court said Google is responsible for data it links to

A data protection expert says the court ruled in favor of privacy and individual rights

For Google, this result creates a headache, and potentially huge costs, Paul Bernal writes

Editor’s Note: Paul Bernal is a lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law at the University of East Anglia Law School, and a specialist in data privacy issues. He is a blogger and the author of the recently published Internet Privacy Rights – rights to protect autonomy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.

CNN —  

In a decision that goes strongly against Google, Europe’s highest court has ruled search engine operators are responsible for the processing they carry out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties – and that a form of the contentious “right to be forgotten” already exists.

The European Court of Justice’s ruling looks like a strong decision in favor of privacy and individual rights, and against the business models of search engines and certain aspects of freedom of speech.

Paul Bernal
Paul Bernal

It means, for example, that if a web page can be found by searching for a person’s name the search engine is responsible for the contents of that page.

In certain circumstances, the search engine operator will be required to remove the search results and links to that page.

Google can be expected to be very unhappy about this ruling indeed, particularly given that last year’s Advocate-General’s opinion suggested the reverse, and the court generally follows such guidance.

What is the right to be forgotten?

One of the perennial problems on the Internet is the idea that whatever appears is there forever.

Stories that appear discreditable – whether they are true or not, whether they are up to date or not, whether they tell the whole story or not – can always be found and brought to the public attention.

The “right to be forgotten” is the idea that we have the right to wipe the slate clean, to remove outdated stories such as spent convictions from the record.