Google takes right to be forgotten battle to France’s highest court
Google is appealing to France’s highest court over a legal ruling that could force it to censor its search results worldwide. The search firm has filed an appeal with the Conseil d’État, the French court with the final say over matters of administrative law, in an attempt to overturn a ruling from the country’s data protection authority (CNIL), which would greatly extend the remit of the so-called “right to be forgotten”. That right requires Google to remove links to pages that “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed”, in the words of the European court of justice’s ruling from 2014. Since March, if a search term has been removed — and across Europe, the company has delisted about 600,000 results in response to requests — the company has ensured it can’t be seen by anyone in an EU country, regardless of which version of Google they search on. So if Google detects a user is in Britain, they won’t be able to see removed results even if they go to Google.com. What’s more, Google.co.uk won’t display the removed results, even to users in other countries. But in July, CNIL ruled that that wasn’t enough, and required Google to apply the right to be forgotten to all searches on all Google domains. It said at the time “in accordance with the CJEU (European court of justice) judgment, the CNIL considers that in order to be effective, delisting must be carried out on all extensions of the search engine and that the service provided by Google search constitutes a single processing” Google rejected the ruling, and sparked a 10-month fight now culminating in its appeal to the Conseil d’État. Kent Walker, the company’s general counsel, gave the company’s reasons for fighting so hard. “As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand,” he said. “We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries - perhaps less open and democratic - start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach? “This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France. This is not just a hypothetical concern. We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds — and we have resisted, even if that has sometimes led to the blocking of our services.” CNIL has argued that the global filtering is the only way to fully enforce the right to be forgotten. In an infographic the body released in March, for instance, it points out that a hypothetical “Mr Complainant” could ask for an old dating profile to be removed from searches for his name: that would prevent a misunderstanding with his French fiancee or Portuguese cousin, the organisation points out, but not his American colleague, or his “geeky, curious neighbour” — who could just fake their IP address as a non-EU country. In one situation, however, Google is bound to apply one country’s laws across all its domains, even if their own laws are different. American copyright law governs all Google domains, and an order of magnitude more removal requests come due to copyright concerns than privacy issues. In the past month alone, Google says it has received 88,814,884 requests to remove URLs due to alleged copyright infringement. They are all governed by the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (by contrast, it has assessed 1.5m requests for removal due to the right to be forgotten in the entire period since May 2014). URLs removed as a result of a copyright takedown requests are removed globally. But copyright protections are far more internationally accepted than the right to be forgotten: the Berne convention, which sets international standards for intellectual property protection, has 171 signatories.