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Jun 26, 2014

Limiting Damage of EU Privacy Ruling

Google has began implementing a decision (summary) by the European Court of Justice requiring search engines to honor requests to remove links to online information about individuals that is "no longer necessary in the light of the purposes for which they were collected or processed," under the European concept of "the right to be forgotten." And it has done so in a way that limits the damage to the internet as a source of information.

In early June, just three weeks after the court's decision was released, Google reported that it was receiving 10,000 requests to remove information each day: an average of one every seven seconds.

Google began removing the information today (June 26), but in a limited way. It is removed only from the results of searches for individual names, and only if the search is done on one of Google's European sites (such as google.es and google.co.uk). An algorithm detects name searches to remove the results, and adds a notice that "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe."

An irony of the EU court's decision is that while the court required that the material be removed from search engine results, it also held that the original online source of the material could not be required to remove the material because of"the right to receive and impart information" guaranteed in Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

So the material remains online, but it is not included in the results of a Google search done for an individual name from one of Google's European sites. So if Europeans want to get the full results of their searches, it appears all they need to do is enter their search on Google's site for the United States (where, as I explained previously, the First Amendment bars such restrictions) or another non-European country.

This is the same approach that Google itself took when it decided that Chinese internet restrictions were too onerous, so it shut down its Chinese site and redirected searches through its site in Hong Kong, where there are less restrictions.

So, with a little creativity, the E.U. court's decision will not end up breaking the internet. It may provide a restricted view for Europeans, but searchers can always (virtually) change their seats.

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