Rarely does the future of the internet end up in court, but that’s no exaggeration today at Europe’s highest court.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is completing a marathon seven hours of hearings which will decide if the EU’s stringent ‘right to be forgotten’ data laws apply regionally, or globally.
Google has fought back against a case brought by the French privacy regulator, which made the point that citizens rights could only be enforced if the "right to be forgotten" was applied across the board. The argument being that although an EU citizen could have undesirable search results expunged from EU-based websites and servers, the same would not necessarily follow in other jurisdictions, in spite of the fact that a search engine such as Google would index results from those jurisdictions globally.
The alternative argument is that giving power to censor global internet searches to governments could challenge the open nature of the internet, especially if repressive regimes use it to their advantage. Human rights organisation Article 19 has been campaigning for free speech to be upheld, as Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, Thomas Hughes confirmed in a statement: "This case could see the right to be forgotten threatening global free speech. European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what Internet users around the world find when they use a search engine. The CJEU must limit the scope of the right to be forgotten in order to protect the right of Internet users around the world to access information online."
The final decision is expected sometime next year, and could be controversial whichever way it leans. "The proposed solution from the CNIL may be a bold one," Jean Lessi, secretary-general of the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the French privacy watchdog, told the ECJ judges. "But it’s based on a bold decision by EU officials."
Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO and founder of Biolink.Tech, said that the case touches on a very sensitive topic: "It's a UN grade question: Do we allow people not to be tracked for whatever reasons? My answer is - free people must have such a privilege. When we are basically forced to comply with tracking, it makes us digital slaves to the corporations tracking us."
Jim Kaskade, CEO of Janrain reflected that perhaps the question was even bigger than Google: "The fact that Google is referencing digital properties globally and essentially providing a reference to the original content begs the question, "Are we focusing on the wrong company? Shouldn’t we be enforcing at the source?"
"How does Google know the difference if someone having trouble with the law says, "forget me" and remove all references to my name even if Google is indexing a source that has a legal right to present that personal information?"
Google’s most recent transparency report notes that the company has removed 44 percent of the 723,000 requests received under the EU’s right to be forgotten rules, involving 2.7 million links over the last four years.