Google fights French legal ruling which would make right to be forgotten stories disappear worldwide

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Google has launched an appeal against a ruling by France’s data protection regulator that French law protecting the right to be forgotten applies not just in Francebut across the world.

The search engine giant revealed it would be challenging the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) decision in a blog by Kent Walker, Google’s global general counsel, published in French newspaper Le Monde.

An English language version of the article is also available online at the Google Europe Blog.

Walker wrote that for hundreds of years it has been an accepted rule of law that one country should not have the right to impose its rules on the citizens of other countries.

The right to be forgotten, or delisted from search engine results, was created in a landmark 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice.

Said Walker: “It lets Europeans delist certain links from search engine results generated by searches for their name, even when those links point to truthful and lawfully published information like newspaper articles or official government websites.”

Google says it has complied with that ruling in every EU country and its approach reflected the criteria set out by the European Court, as with guidance from each country’s regulators and courts about the nuances of their local data protection rules.

“Across Europe we’ve now reviewed nearly 1.5 million web pages, delisting around 40 per cent. In France alone, we’ve reviewed over 300,000 web pages, delisting nearly 50 per cent,” he wrote.

Google had recently expanded its approach, restricting access to delisted links on all Google Search services viewed from the country of the person making the request and removing the link from results on other EU country domains.

Walker said: “The CNIL’s latest order, however, requires us to go even further, applying the CNIL’s interpretation of French law to every version of Google Search globally. This would mean removing links to content – which may be perfectly legal locally – from Australia to Zambia and everywhere in between, including google.com.

“As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand.

“We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries – perhaps less open and democratic – start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?

“This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France.”

Google filed an appeal of the CNIL’s order with France’s Supreme Administrative Court, the Conseil d’Etat, lat week.

The Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organisations – including human rights and press freedom groups, welcomed the appeal, saying the CNIL’s ruling set a “disturbing precedent for the cause of an open and free Internet, and sends the message to other countries that they can force the banning of search results not just inside their own jurisdictions, but assert that jurisdiction across the globe”.

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