Google does not have to delete data that appears in its search index on citizens, according to a ruling at the European Court of Justice, which could have notable ramifications for the 'right to be forgotten'.
The EU ruling was made as a recommendation to the Court of Justice by advocate general Niilo Jääskinen as part of a case brought against Google by a Spanish citizen who wants potential harmful search results on his name removed from its index.
In the ruling Jääskinen said Google and other search engines are not subject to privacy requirements under current European data protection law.
"Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they process," he said in his official ruling, published by the court.
He went on to explain that based on current laws citizens do not have a right to be removed from search indexes within the framework of the Data Protection Directive.
“The Directive does not establish a general 'right to be forgotten'. Such a right cannot therefore be invoked against search engine service providers on the basis of the Directive,” he said.
The decision was welcomed by Google head of free expression, Bill Echikson: “We’re glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress ‘legitimate and legal information’ would amount to censorship," he said.
The ruling is not binding but the opinion is given to the judges of the court, who now begin their deliberations in this case, and usually the decisions match the initial opinion. A final judgment will be given at a later date, likely at the end of the year.
Data protection lawyer Stewart Room from Field Fisher Waterhouse told V3 that the ruling threw up several interesting elements and would be warmly welcomed by the search community.
“The interest, for the lay person, is the opinion that there is no general right to be forgotten within the current Data Protection Directive, or the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights,” he said.
“Therefore, national data protection regulators can't order a search link to be disabled within a search engine's index, provided that the search engine didn't wrongly spider a website in the first place contrary to any no-robots coding.”
Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal.