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Google must delete history, rules CJEU

Result exposes a critical culture clash with the US, warns expert

20 May 2014

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Google being forced to remove the history someone who claimed the 'right to be forgotten' raises concerns about a UK-US culture clash, according to a defamation and media law expert.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled last week that an individual can insist on "irrelevant or outdated" information being deleted from search results.

Michael Sandys, partner and head of commercial at Jackson & Canter solicitors, said that while Google does need to do more to protect and manage people's data, enshrining this ruling in law must strike a balance between privacy and freedom of speech.

"There is a fundamental difference between the US, where freedom of speech is a paramount concern in law, and Europe, where we place more importance on the protection of individual privacy and reputational rights," he said.

"This will probably find its way into European law in one or two years. In that time, lawmakers will need to ensure they find a way to allow some information to be removed in a timely fashion while at the same time not allowing history to be rewritten."

The internet search giant should have levers in place in instances where defamatory or inaccurate data can be found so that legal action is not required to remove it, he continued.

"Google should perhaps do more in these cases. I have made requests on behalf of clients a number of times for the removal of content which defames them. Sometimes it is dealt with well, but other times the process can be slow and cumbersome.

"There must be a consideration of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. It has been suggested that the law could insist that something termed 'irrelevant information' or 'out of date' could be deleted on request or automatically after five years.

"However, what should be the criteria for this? Moreover, what is deemed irrelevant now may not be in ten years."

The ruling, and any future legislation brought by the European Commission, could be exploited by companies keen to remove negative or critical comments, professionals subject to claims of negligence and historical criminal cases.

Privacy campaigners welcomed the decision. A statement from Big Brother Watch said: "If we start to make intermediaries responsible for the actions or the content of other people, you're establishing a model that leads to greater surveillance and a risk of censorship."

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