The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

World News

May 14, 2014

European court ruling redefines 'Googling' people

AMSTERDAM — A European court decision will require Google to sanitize its Internet search results to protect people who can demonstrate the information unfairly tarnishes their reputation.

The landmark ruling empowers the roughly 500 million people living in 28 European Union countries to prevent Google and other search engines from listing embarrassing or illegal episodes from their past. It will also change the role that Google and its rivals play in Europe, transforming them into caretakers of personal reputations.

Some key issues to consider:

—What was the court's ruling?

The European Court of Justice, the closest thing the European Union has to the Supreme Court in the United States, ruled that Google and other search engines must respond to user requests seeking to remove links to personal information. Google and the other search engines, including Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing, won't necessarily have to omit all the links covered in an individual's request, but they will have to make difficult decisions about what should remain within the reach of any Web surfer. The Luxembourg-based court said an individual's right to privacy has to be weighed against the public's interest in accessing information.

— How did this case come about?

The case began with a Spaniard seeking to have outdated information about himself removed from the Internet. His quest became a key test of the so-called "right to be forgotten" — to have unflattering information erased after a period of time. Specifically, in 2010 Mario Costeja asked for the removal of links to a 1998 newspaper notice that his property was due to be auctioned because of an unpaid welfare debt. A Spanish privacy agency agreed to his request, but Google protested, saying it should not have to censor links to information that was legal and publicly available. A top Spanish court asked the European court for an interpretation of how European privacy law applies to search-engine results, and got a broader ruling than it had asked for.

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