Google Working Out Specifics of EU's 'Right to Forget' Law

Google's chief legal officer shares more about its recent response to the new law in an op-ed piece that was published in several European newspapers.

Google legal

It's been two months since a May European Union court established rules allowing individuals to request that negative information about them be removed from online searches, but even now, Google is still working to find its way to comply with the law but still keep the Internet relevant.

That's the message of David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and the company's chief legal officer, in an op-ed column that was published this weekend in several European newspapers. Drummond's op-ed piece was also published in a July 11 post on the Google Europe Blog to explain how the company is continuing to find the right balance between complying with the controversial "right to forget" law and keeping the information on the Internet accurate and relevant. Under the law, information can only be removed under certain conditions.

"When you search online, there's an unwritten assumption that you'll get an instant answer, as well as additional information if you need to dig deeper," wrote Drummond. "This is all possible because of two decades worth of investment and innovation by many different companies. Today, however, search engines across Europe face a new challenge—one we've had just two months to get our heads around. That challenge is figuring out what information we must deliberately omit from our results, following a new ruling from the European Court of Justice."

Previously, Google only removed information from search results at the request of individuals when it met several very restrictive requirements, including that the information had been "deemed illegal by a court, such as defamation, pirated content (once we're notified by the rights holder), malware, personal information such as bank details, child sexual abuse imagery and other things prohibited by local law (like material that glorifies Nazism in Germany)," wrote Drummond.

That was previously done because "article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,'" wrote Drummond.

Now, the EU court ruling has changed all of that, he added, giving individuals the right to ask for information to be removed from search results that include their names if it is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive,” he wrote.

The problem with all of this, he wrote, is that "in deciding what to remove, search engines must also have regard to the public interest," under what can be "very vague and subjective tests."

The EU court decision also stipulated that search engines don't have the same "journalistic exceptions" that news organizations have, which allows them to publish news even when it annoys the subject of the reports, wrote Drummond. "This means that The Guardian could have an article on its Website about an individual that's perfectly legal, but we might not legally be able to show links to it in our results when you search for that person's name. It's a bit like saying the book can stay in the library, it just cannot be included in the library's card catalogue."