In a significant and concerning decision, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) has endorsed the so-called “right to be forgotten” and ruled that, in some circumstances, search engines can be compelled to remove search result links to websites, news articles, court records and other documents that reveal truthful information about individuals—even when the information is not prejudicial and has been posted lawfully. Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos.
At issue in the underlying case was a Spanish national’s demand that Google remove links to two 1998 newspaper announcements that appeared in search results for his name, and which mentioned the forced auction of his real estate holdings. The claimant argued that since the related attachment proceedings had long since been resolved, this personal data was no longer relevant and Google should therefore be required to remove the links. The Spanish Data Protection Agency agreed, and when Google appealed that decision, the National High Court of Spain sought advice from the ECJ, the European Union’s highest court.