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In May 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that a user had the right to have links to web pages about him removed from Google’s search results because the passage of time had made them “irrelevant”. A Spanish citizen had complained that Google’s links to an auction notice of his repossessed home infringed his privacy. The takedown demand only applied to search results and not the web page containing the notice itself. However, the Court added that others had a similar right to have search results deleted “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life” that would justify keeping the links online. The Court noted that if search engines refused to comply, it would be up to local regulatory authorities – such as the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK – to force their hand.

As a result of the ruling, Google’s European sites must process thousands of data removal requests that the company has received since its web form went live on 30 May.

The judgment has been criticised by campaigners for freedom of expression, as well as by the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education.

The Court ruling is based on the 1995 Data Protection Directive. Meanwhile, protracted negotiations are continuing to replace this legislation with a new Regulation, which (in draft) also incorporates a “right to be forgotten”.

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