25 Years eco – 25 Internet Policy Debates in Review: #1 Right to be Forgotten

Is there a right to be forgotten? A controversial Internet debate took a new turn in 2014 with a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice (EUCJ). In short, the Luxembourg court ruled that, in certain cases, search engines can be obliged to remove links to personal data. The upshot: not only operators of websites are deemed to be responsible for the relevant content – search engines are too. As they collect, store and process the data, they are also responsible for the search results.

The kick-off to the legal dispute was the 2010 complaint filed by a Spanish national against Google Inc., Google Spain, and the La Vanguardia newspaper – the search engine’s findings included a 1998 digitalised article from the Catalan newspaper. This article mentioned the name of the plaintiff in connection with a property attachment, although his debts had already been fully paid. The Spanish data protection agency AEPD also deemed this to be damaging to reputation. Google followed up by bringing an appeal before the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid, which in turn stayed the proceedings and referred the matter to the EUCJ for a preliminary ruling. In a 2019 ruling, the EUCJ further concretized the right to be forgotten and its scope, deciding that this right must be applied to all persons living in the EU, but that there is no worldwide enforceability to the right to removal.

eco has also repeatedly and actively participated in the Internet policy debate on the right to be forgotten. The Association of the Internet Industry, for example, initially called for a fundamental debate on the criteria and responsibilities for balancing the right to personal privacy with the right to access to information and freedom of information. To this day, eco is still of the opinion that, while there should be an inspection authority, this decision should not be made by the search engine operators themselves. This is and should continue to be the task of the courts.

Save the Date: Kompetenzgruppe Netze Auftakt 2020