In 2014, the EU’s top court forced search engines to grant their users the right to be forgotten. Under the ruling, any person can ask from Google, Bing and other search engines to remove from their search results personal content that is either offensive, outdated or harms the person’s public image or socioeconomic status.
But now, a France-based official privacy watchdog wants that rule to be extended beyond the EU’s borders. Google had to grant the right to be forgotten to French Internet users, as well, but only for the google.fr search engine. So, on google.com the delinked content still features in search results.
Under the right to be forgotten, the offensive material however is not removed from the original site. Only links to it are removed under certain search engine queries. Nevertheless, France’s government wants the partial censorship to apply worldwide, which Google fears that may have dire consequences on the online freedom of expression.
CNIL, France’s personal data protection agency requested this summer that the U.S. based Internet giant delinks content on all versions of its search engine, not only the French version. This means that France wants the ruling to apply to google.com, as well, though the majority of French users use google.fr to find content on the Internet.
Google declined the request reasoning that no country should dictate what someone in a second country can access.
“France is asking for Google to do something here in the US that if the US government asked for, it would be against the First Amendment,”
noted Jonathan L. Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard.
If France succeeds in its claims, people on the other side of the North Atlantic would be unable to see content that is legal under their state’s law. Law experts are not very convinced whether the move would benefit French Internet users very much.
In a recent report, Google said that about 97 percent of Internet users in France use google.fr instead of Google.com. Google is also concerned that giving into France’s requests would open the gates to state-run censorship in Europe, as well. For instance, China heavily censors Internet search results, and so does Turkey or Thailand.
France argued that delinked data is often of no public interest and rarely affects the First Amendment. Most content users want to be removed is private. The Guardian recently reported that less than 5 percent of delinked content was related to high-profile politicians or criminals. The rest of the requests were made by the general public, the newspaper noted.
Image Source: Index on Censorship