Search engines are “not responsible” if personal data shows up in their results, a top European Union court adviser has said.
Google faces allegations that it allows personal data to show in its results, which would contravene EU privacy law.
The test case is currently underway at the EU – but one adviser has spoken out to say it’s not up to search engines to erase content from the Internet, regardless of what the content may be. The same adviser, however, underlined that US companies operating in Europe still have to respect EU law.
According to Reuters, Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen submitted a statement which was read out in the Luxemburg court.
He said: “Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression.”
The statement said that Internet firms operating in the EU were not obliged to remove personal content produced by third parties, adding: “Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the (EU’s) Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they possess.”
One lawyer, Eduardo Ustaran, from London-based Field Fisher Waterhouse, indicated Google’s search spiders wouldn’t know the difference between personal and non-personal content.
“A search engine is just a tool,” Reuters reports Ustaran as saying. “The nature of that information is irrelevant. It is just ones and zeros.”
The case, which has rumbled on through the European Court of Justice, is expected to culminate in a verdict before the end of 2013.
It started with a Spanish man, who complained that a public notice, about his repossessed home going up for auction, was an infringement of his privacy, and shouldn’t be shown in Google’s results.
The announcement was published in a Spanish paper, which has said it was under “legal obligation” to publish.
The complaint is just one of 180 in Spain where people have tried to remove content from Google’s results, according to Reuters. These cases are on hold whilst the court deliberates the test case.
Google says deleting content from the results (especially public content) was tantamount to censorship. Google does try to crack down on any illegal content, and can also downrank (although often doesn’t remove) sites that have overdone their search engine optimisation.
The company welcomed Jaaskinen’s opinion.
Google’s head of free expression in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Bill Echikson, said in an email: “This is a good opinion for free expression.”
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