A New Right for Individuals to Control their Online Information
On 14 May 2014, the Grand Camber of the European Court of Justice (Court) delivered a judgment that could widely affect how search engines (such as Google) process, record, store and present information relating to individuals. The judgment addressed and confirmed the right of an individual to request that information relating to that individual be removed from search engines.
In Google Inc v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, the Court held that search engines are involved in processing personal data; and that operators of search engines are data controllers for the purposes of the Data Protection Directive(DPD).
The Court held that search engines have a duty to ensure that published search results are compatible with the rights of individuals. The Court recognised that there is also a public interest and right to access information that needs to be protected, but on balance, the Court found that the rights of individuals, about whom data is collected, override the public interest (with a few recognised exceptions such as public figures).
The Court went on to find that the DPD includes a right for individuals to be forgotten - which extends to include a right for individuals to demand that search engines remove information that an individual does not want to be published about them. Interestingly, the Court held that the right existed irrespective of the individual’s ability to show any prejudice. The Court found support for its position in Articles 7 and 8 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights.1
The Effects of the Judgment
While the judgment does not directly apply to Australia or jurisdictions outside the European Union, it does represent a significant step in allowing individuals greater control over information that is published about them on the Internet.