Google says broader right to be forgotten is 'serious assault' on freedom

Criticises European Court of Justice before deadline for comments on looming cases

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Google's general counsel has signalled the company intends to fight, hard, against broad interpretations of the European Union's right to be forgotten.

Kent Walker, the company's general counsel and senior veep, put his name to a strongly-worded post on Wednesday, US time. Titled “Defending access to lawful information at Europe’s highest court”, the post argued that forthcoming cases in the European Court of Justice “represent a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information.”

Walker wrote that French courts' request for a European Court of Justice ruling on personal data collection effectively seeks a regime under which “all mentions of criminality or political affiliation should automatically be purged from search results, without any consideration of public interest.”

“If the Court accepted this argument, it would give carte blanche to people who might wish to use privacy laws to hide information of public interest—like a politician’s political views, or a public figure’s criminal record,” Walker wrote. “This would effectively erase the public’s right to know important information about people who represent them in society or provide them services.”

Walker also criticised proposals to extend Europe's right to be forgotten to other nations. “We—and a wide range of human rights and media organizations, and others, like Wikimedia—believe that this runs contrary to the basic principles of international law,” Walker wrote, adding “no one country should be able to impose its rules on the citizens of another country, especially when it comes to linking to lawful content.”

The lawyer said Google has taken this position because “These cases represent a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information.”

“We will argue in court for a reasonable interpretation of the right to be forgotten and for the ability of countries around the world to set their own laws, not have those of others imposed on them.”

Walker also wrote that broad or extended interpretation of the right to be forgotten “keeps us from delivering the comprehensive search service that people expect of us.”

When the right to be forgotten came into force, amidst much hand-wringing about its impact on small web companies, our own Andrew Orlowski wrote that “Google's private concerns about its own costs and liabilities were portrayed as a national emergency.”

Walker's arguments – and admission that the right makes it harder to run a good search engine – remain susceptible to that analysis, not least because his post concludes by reminding readers that “ Up to November 20, European countries and institutions have the chance to make their views known to the Court.” ®


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