Former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said Google could stop links to the material appearing in results but decides not to. He made the comments during a question-and-answer session conducted by the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions.
The committee discussed whether Google was doing enough to protect the privacy of former motor racing boss Max Mosley, who is suing the internet giant. Mosley claims that search engines should have to prevent certain content related to his sex life from appearing in search results.
In 2008 the UK High Court ruled that the News of the World had violated Mosley's right to privacy when it published a story and video detailing an orgy in which Mosley took part. The Court ordered the paper to pay Mosley £60,000 in damages. At the time the judge said the paper's allegation that Mosley's sex life had Nazi undertones was unproven and that the article was unjustified. Mosley is the son of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British fascists in the 1930s and 1940s.
Mosley is taking legal action against Google over copies of the privacy-intrusive material that he says appears in the company's search results.
In December Mosley told the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions that although Google acted to stop specific content appearing in search results when he had flagged the links up, it did not prevent further copies appearing elsewhere on the web. He said search engines and other service providers should have to act to prevent the material surfacing in results.
Conservative peer Lord Mawhinney had questioned whether technology prevented Google from protecting Mosley's privacy or whether it was a policy decision the company had taken, according to the Guardian.
Daphne Keller, Google's legal director and associate general counsel, said that while it was possible for technology to be developed to prevent copies of certain photos or text from appearing in search results, it was a "bad idea" for it to be used.
"We don't have a mechanism that can find duplicates of pictures or duplicates of text and make them disappear from our web search," Keller said, according to the Guardian. "And as a policy matter I don't think that would be a good idea."
"Ultimately the determination of which web pages violate the law is something for a court, for a person to make, rather than for an algorithm to make potentially erroneous conclusions about what should come down," Keller said, according to the report.
Keller told the committee that Google does remove material related to child pornography from search results as a result of working with bodies such as the Internet Watch Foundation but was otherwise reliant on individuals flagging up offensive material for it to stop referencing to.
"When a court order applies to particular URLs we do remove them, we remove them very quickly. It doesn't cost money [for people to bring them to our attention]. We are working very hard to comply with the laws," Keller said, according to the Guardian.
However, Bradshaw said Keller's answers were "totally unconvincing" and that Google was able to remove material if it wished. "You could do it if you want to, you choose not to," he said, according to the Guardian's report.
Secondary publishers can avoid liability for material they link to under the UK's E-Commerce Regulations. The Regulations state that generally secondary publishers are not liable for any material if it acts as a mere conduit or caches or hosts the material.
Service providers that do not initiate the transmission of content, do not select who receives it or do not select or modify information in the transmission of the content are not liable under the mere conduit defence.
In order to avoid any liability for unlawful material, the service provider also must, upon gaining 'actual knowledge' that the initial source has been removed or access to it has been disabled, act 'expeditiously' to ensure that the information is deleted or access to it disabled.
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