European Court Of Justice Holds Individuals Have “Right To Be Forgotten”


On May 13, the European Court of Justice held that an internet search operator is responsible for the processing of personal data that appear on web pages published by third parties, and that an individual has a right to ask a search engine operator to remove from search results specific links to materials that include the individual’s personal information. The court considered the issue in response to questions referred from a Spanish court about the scope of a 1995 E.U. directive designed to, among other things, protect individual privacy rights when personal data are processed. The court determined that “by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the internet, the operator of a search engine ‘collects’ data within the meaning of the directive,” and further determined that the operator “processes” and “controls” individual personal data within the meaning of the directive. The court held that a search engine operator “must ensure, within the framework of its responsibilities, powers and capabilities, that its activity complies with the directive’s requirements,” including by, in certain circumstances, removing “links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name,” even when publication of that person’s information on those pages is lawful. Further, the court held that although the search engine operator’s processing operations take place outside of the E.U., the operator is covered by the directive because the operator also has operations in an E.U. member state that were “intended to promote and sell, in the Member State in question, advertising space offered by the search engine in order to make the service offered by the engine profitable.”


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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