Google inundated with European takedown requests

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Pedophiles and politicians invoke their “right to be forgotten”

(Jennifer Abel @ ConsumerAffairs) Well, that didn't take long! On Tuesday, May 13, the European Union's Court of Justice ruled that Google and other search engines are, in at least some circumstances, legally obligated to stop linking to old news stories about various people — true and accurate news stories about people — if the people in question request it, because in the European Union, apparently, there is such a thing as a “right to be forgotten” and the Internet is obliged to honor it.

The original case was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, whose house was repossessed and auctioned for unpaid taxes back in 1998. A Spanish newspaper printed legal notices about the proceedings — standard operating procedure for a daily paper, in Spain or in America — and then in 2009, Costeja asked Google to stop linking to the old notices in searches for his name.

Google refused, Costeja took Google to court and the court sided against Google.

Requests run rampant

That was Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday came the first undetailed reports that Google was received an unspecified number of takedown requests, and by Thursday morning, the BBC shared some specifics: a politician running for re-election wants Google to stop linking to old news stories about his behavior in office.

A pedophile wants Google to stop linking to news articles about his previous criminal conviction for possession of child pornography, and a doctor wants Google to stop linking to negative reviews written by his patients.

Those are the only three examples the BBC mentioned; Google has not officially commented on just how many takedown requests it has received.

According to E.U. commissioner Viviane Reding, the court decision is “a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans,” though it's uncertain where or if Reding and the E.U. Court draws any distinction between “protecting personal data” and “trying to erase history.”

As of press time, there's no word on whether Google will, for example, comply with the takedown requests from the pedophile or the politician, nor whether Google is even legally obligated to do so — the court decision, as written, leaves much room for interpretation.

The E.U. has no equivalent to America's First Amendment's free-speech guarantees; you can be successfully sued for libel even if you're telling the truth. Whether the court will revisit its decision in light of recent developments is also unknown-as-of-presstime detail.