News

June 25, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

European court’s expert argues in Google’s favour on search results


Reporters Without Borders welcomes European Court of Justice advocate-general Niilo Jääskinen’s findings, published today, in a legal wrangle between Google and a Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja, over his desire to have certain links expunged from the results of a Google search for his name. Costeja filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) against Google and the newspaper La Vanguardia in March 2012 after discovering that a search for his name yielded links to legal notices in the newspaper about the auction of real estate property seized from him for non-payment of social security contributions. The AEPD rejected Costeja’s complaint against the newspaper on the grounds that “publication of the information was legal and was protected by the right to information” but, with extraordinary inconsistency, upheld his complaint against Google, ordering the search engine to eliminate about 100 links from all future searches for Costeja’s name. Refusing to comply, Google appealed to the European Court of Justice. Produced by the advocate-general at the court’s request, the expert report finds that Google is not responsible for personal data in the web pages to which its search results refer and that data protection agencies cannot demand the withdrawal of links from search engine results unless a publisher has included “exclusion codes.” Jääskinen’s report also finds that the European directive on data protection does not establish a “right to be forgotten” and that such a right cannot be used in an attempt to get search engines to suppress information. “Advocate-general Jääskinen’s analysis and conclusions constitute a significant, logical and coherent advance in the protection of online freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Spanish agency’s paradoxical decision, which we already condemned in February, represented a potential danger to media freedom that has just been partially dispelled. We will await the European Court of Justice’s final decision in this case, for which a date has not yet been set. “We hope that this decision will finally convince the Spanish Data Protection Agency and all other similar European agencies not to confuse the necessary protection of privacy with the so-called right to be forgotten, which is the subject of growing interest on the part of many people and poses a serious threat to our right to information. “Trying to rewrite history by suppressing web links or web archives is a Pandora’s box that is best not opened. We strongly urge the European Commission, which is currently examining this issue, to heed advocate-general Jääskinen’s conclusions.”