Brendan Van Alsenoy is a legal researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law & ICT (ICRI), KU Leuven – iMinds. Marieke Koekkoek is a research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (GGS), KU Leuven.
In May of this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that individuals can – under certain conditions – ask Google (photo credit) to stop referring to certain information about them. The CJEU’s recognition of this so-called “right to be forgotten” has kicked up quite a storm. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it’s time to direct our attention to questions of practical implementation. One set of questions is about territorial reach. How far should the right to be forgotten extend, geographically speaking? Should Google, upon finding that an individual’s request is justified, modify its search results globally? Or should it only modify search results shown within the EU?
According to press reports, Google’s current approach is to limit its modification of results to the “European versions” of the search engine. Search results of people using google.com remain unaltered, while people using google.es or google.be may no longer be seeing the full picture. However, Google still allows its EU users to switch to the .com version, simply by clicking a button at the bottom of the page. EU users can also freely navigate to other country-specific versions of the search engine, whose search results may not be filtered in the same way. By not taking further measures to limit access to “forgotten” search results, it seems as if the search engine is needlessly provoking the wrath of European data protection authorities. So what should the search engine be doing?
Realistically speaking, only two approaches seem viable. The first option would be to “keep it local”, by filtering the search results for queries originating from EU territory – regardless of which country version of Google is being used. The second option would be to “go global”, which would involve modification of search results worldwide. (To be clear, either approach would only kick in once Google has decided to grant a specific request and would only affect results following a name search).
It is true that nothing in the CJEU ruling suggests that Google would be justified in limiting itself to specific websites, countries or regions. But, as even the Chairwoman of the Article 29 Working Party has acknowledged, the matter may not be so clear-cut. Read the rest of this entry…