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Google Spain v. González: Did the Court Forget about Freedom of Expression?

Case C-131/12 Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos and Mario Costeja González

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Stefan Kulk
Affiliation:
Utrecht University, The Netherlands, s.kulk@uu.nl
Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius
Affiliation:
Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, f.j.zuiderveenborgesius@uva.nl
Corresponding

Extract

When reviewing a job application letter, going on a first date, or considering doing business with someone, the first thing many people do is entering the person's name in a search engine. A search engine can point searchers to information that would otherwise have remained obscure. If somebody searched for the name of Spanish lawyer Mario Costeja González, Google showed search results that included a link to a 1998 newspaper announcement implying he had financial troubles at the time. González wanted Google to stop showing those links and started a procedure in Spain. After some legal wrangling, the Spanish Audiencia Nacional (National High Court) asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for advice on the application of the Data Protection Directive, which led to the controversial judgment in Google Spain. In its judgment, the CJEU holds that people, under certain conditions, have the right to have search results for their name delisted. This right can also extend to lawfully published information.

Type
Case Notes
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014

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References

1 European Parliament and Council Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, OJ 1995 L 281/31.

2 Case C-131/12, Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v. Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos and Mario Costeja Gonzalez, not yet published.

3 See on the jurisdictional aspects of the judgment: Christopher Kuner, “The Right to be Forgotten and the Global Reach of EU Data Protection Law”, 1 June 2014, available on the Internet at: <http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2014/06/the-right-to-beforgotten-and-the-global-reach-of-eu-data-protection-law.html> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

4 The original publication is available on the website of La Vanguardia at: <http://hemeroteca.lavanguardia.com/preview/1998/01/19/pagina-23/33842001/pdf.html> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

5 See in more detail about the facts and national procedure: Google Spain, paras. 14-20; and Opinion of Advocate General Jaaskinen in Case C-131/12 Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos and Mario Costeja González, not yet published, at paras. 18-23.

6 Google Spain, at paras. 20-21. See also Art. 2(a) and 2(b) of the Data Protection Directive.

7 Google Spain, at para. 29-31.

8 Art. 2(d) of the Data Protection Directive.

9 Google Spain, at para. 33.

10 Ibid., at para. 42.

11 Ibid., at para. 51.

12 Ibid. at para. 55.

13 Ibid., at para. 60 and dictum. See generally on the territorial scope of data protection law: Kuner C, Transborder Data Flows and Data Privacy Law (PhD thesis University of Tilburg, academic version) (Kuner 2012), chapter VI and VII.

14 Art. 7 of the Charter is phrased similarly as Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human rights.

15 Google Spain, at para. 69.

16 Art. 6(1)(c) and 6(1)(e) of the Data Protection Directive.

17 Ibid., at para. 70.

18 Ibid, at para. 89.

19 Ibid, at para. 38.

20 Ibid, at para. 80.

21 Ibid, at para. 92.

22 Ibid, at para. 92.

23 Ibid, at para. 93.

24 Ibid, at para. 99 and dictum.

25 Ibid, at para. 81.

26 Ibid, at para. 99 and dictum.

27 Ibid, at para. 99 and dictum.

28 Ibid, at para. 77.

29 A discussion of the search engine operator's right to freedom to conduct a business (Art. 16 of the Charter) falls outside the scope of this note. This right could also be considered in the “fair balance”.

30 ECtHR, Axel Springer AG v. Germany, app. no. 39954/08 (7 February 2012), at para. 87. See similarly: ECtHR, Von Hannover v. Germany, app. nrs. 40660/08 and 60641/08 (7 February 2012), at para. 100; ECtHR, Węgrzynowski and Smolczewski v. Poland, app. no. 33846/07 (16 July 2013), at para. 56. The European Convention on Human Rights does not contain a right to data protection, and the European Court of Human Rights largely includes data protection rights in the right to respect for private life (Art. 8 of the Convention).

31 More generally, scholars have criticised the CJEU's lack of attention to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. See: Burca, Grainne De, “After the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: The Court of Justice as a Human Rights Adjudicator?”, 10 Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law (2013), pp. 168 et sqq. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 ECtHR, Autronic AG v. Switzerland, app. no. 12726/87 (22 May 1990), at para. 47.

33 Hoboken, Joris van, Search Engine Freedom. On the Implications of the Right to Freedom of Expression for the Legal Governance of Web Search Engines (Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International, 2012), at. p. 350.Google Scholar

34 After the judgment, Google not only removes results for name searches, but also for queries consisting of a combination of a name and other search terms. See: Letter from Google to Article 29 Working Party, 31 July 2014, available on the Internet at: <http://goo.gl/vQRE3B> (last accessed on 22 August 2014), answer to question 14.

35 Opinion of Advocate General Jaaskinen in Google Spain, at para. 134 (internal footnotes omitted).

36 Van Hoboken, Search Engine Freedom, supra note 33, at p. 351.

37 Ibid., at p. 228. Also see this U.S. court decision: Search King, Inc. v. Google Technology, Inc., 2003 WL 21464568 (W.D. Okla. 2003).

38 Art. 11(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

39 ECtHR, Tarsasag a Szabadsagjogokert v. Hungary, app. no. 37374/05 (14 April 2009), at para. 26.

40 ECtHR, Fredrik Neij and Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi v. Sweden, app. no. 40397/12 (19 February 2013), at p. 9.

41 The Directive mentions “interests” inter alia in article 7(f), the balancing provision. Below, under the heading “Special categories of personal data”, we discuss that provision.

42 Google Spain, at para. 81

43 Ibid., dictum under nr. 4. See also para. 97 and 99.

44 Ibid., dictum under nr. 4.

45 See e.g. ECtHR, Von Hannover v. Germany, app. nrs. 40660/08 and 60641/08 (7 February 2012), at para. 108-113; ECtHR, Axel Springer AG v. Germany, app. no. 39954/08 (7 February 2012), at para. 89-95.

46 On this issue see e.g.: Grimmelmann, James, “Speech Engines”, 98 Minnesota Law Review (2014), pp. 868 et sqq Google Scholar; Van Hoboken, Search Engine Freedom, supra note 33, at p. 43-50; p. 189-215.

47 Kelly Fiveash, “ICO: It's up to Google the ‘polluter’ to tidy up 'right to be forgotten’ search links”, 24 July 2014, available on the Internet at: <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/24/ico_chief_says_google_needs_to_tidy_up_right_to_be_forgotten_requests_as_search_engines_meet_brussels_officials>. An economist might use the phrase “negative externalities” to characterize the costs that Google imposed on Gonzalez (in the form of reputational harm), and on DPAs and courts (in the form of more work).

48 Opinion of Advocate General Jaaskinen in Google Spain, at para. 84. He added that a search engine operator would be a controller if it “index[ed] or archive[d] personal data against the instructions or requests of the publisher of the web page (ibid., at para. 138).

49 Ibid., at para. 133.

50 Ibid., at para. 133.

51 Article 29 Working Party, “Opinion 1/2008 on data protection issues related to search engines”, 4 April 2008, at p. 14.

52 Art. 14(1)(b) of the E-Commerce Directive (European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/31/EC on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market, OJ 2000 L 178/1).

53 Rosa Julia-Barcelo and Kamiel J Koelman, “Intermediary Liability In The E-Commerce Directive: So Far So Good, But It's Not Enough” 16 Computer Law & Security Report (2000), pp. 231 et sqq. For similar problems in the United States: Jennifer Urban and Laura Quilter, “Efficient process or ‘Chilling Effects’? Takedown Notices under Section 512 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act”, 22 Santa Clara Computer & High Tech. LJ (2005), pp. 621 et sqq., at p. 638; Seltzer, Wendy, “Free Speech Unmoored in Copyright’s Safe Harbor: Chilling Effects on the DMCA on the First Amendment24 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology (2010), pp. 171 et sqq., at pp. 224225. Google Scholar

54 Google, “Transparency Report”, available on the Internet at: <http://www.google.com/transparencyreport> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

55 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, available on the Internet at: <http://www.chillingeffects.org> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

56 Case C-73/07, Tietosuojavaltuutettu v. Satakunnan Markkinaporssi Oy and Satamedia Oy, [2008] ECR I-09831, dictum.

57 Article 29 Working Party, “Opinion 1/2008 on data protection issues related to search engines”, 4 April 2008, at p. 13.

58 Google Spain, at para. 85. In the original language of the case (Spanish), the CJEU says Google cannot benefit from the media exception: “ese no es el caso en el supuesto del tratamiento que lleva a cabo el gestor de un motor de busqueda” (“this is not the case in the event of the processing [of personal data] that the operator of a search engine carries out“). As the original language of the case, Spanish is the authentic language of the judgment (see Article 41 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice of the European Union). The Dutch and German versions of the judgment are in line with the Spanish text. The English (and the French) version say Google “does not appear” to be able to benefit from the media exception, and thus incorrectly imply that Google might benefit from the exception.

59 Art. 8(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 7 of the Data Protection Directive.

60 Google Spain, at para. 73.

61 Art. 8 of the Data Protection Directive.

62 Art. 8(2)(d) and Art. (8)(3) of the Data Protection Directive.

63 Art. 8(2)(e) of the Data Protection Directive.

64 Opinion of Advocate General Jaaskinen in Google Spain, at para. 90.

65 Letter from Google to Article 29 Working Party, supra note 33, answer to question 23.

66 For instance, Google receives around 6 to 8 million removal requests per week for pages allegedly containing copyright infringing material. Google indicates that it removed 97% of search results specified in requests that it received between July and December 2011. See: Google, “Transparency Report”, available on the Internet at: <http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/copyright/> (last accessed on 22 August 2014); and Google, “FAQ”, available on the Internet at: <http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/copyright/faq/#compliance_rate> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

67 Ibid., answer to question 20. See also David Drummond, “We need to talk about the right to be forgotten”, 10 July 2014, available on the Internet at: <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/10/right-to-be-forgotten-european-ruling-google-debate> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

68 David Smith, Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection, “Update on our response to the European Google judgment”, 7 August 2014, available on the Internet at: <http://iconewsblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/update-on-our-response-to-the-european-google-judgment/>

69 Letter from Google to Article 29 Working Party, supra note 34, answer to question 6.

70 A difficulty here is that such a name search query may give hundreds, if not thousands, of search results.

71 Google, “FAQ”, available on the Internet at: <http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/policies/faq> (last accessed on 22 August 2014).

72 Letter from Google to Article 29 Working Party, supra note 34, answer to question 20

73 See Art. 17 of the proposed Data Protection Regulation (COM(2012) 11 final, 2012/0011 (COD), 25 January 2012). The term “right to be forgotten” implies that someone has the right to have others forget something. It is therefore a misleading term for a right to have one's personal data deleted under certain conditions.

74 The original publisher could use a do–not–index code for search engines, for instance in a robots.txt–file. (See Opinion of Advocate General Jaaskinen in Google Spain, at para. 41).

17
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