The European Union’s Court of Justice has clarified that the “right to be
forgotten” online exists. It was done with a historic ruling which
confirmed that search engines must be aware that they are dealing with
personal data, and therefore are responsible for the processing of personal
What does this entail? Basically, search engines are required to eliminate
results that appear in their indexes, in case they might invade the private
life of online searchers, and above all if the information is inaccurate or
The decision will have an impact on more than 220 processes launched by
Google against the resolutions issued by the Spanish Agency for Data
Protection, currently awaiting trial by the Spanish Courts.
Despite the conclusions reached by the General Attorney, the European
Union’s Court of Justice noted that European law can indeed be applied in
favor of the “digital right to be forgotten” on the internet, and
highlights very clearly the responsibility of search engines regarding the
protection of citizens and their personal data.
How to proceed in cases of conflict
Before contacting the search engine, a citizen who believes their privacy
rights are being infringed upon must assert their right to cancellation of
data to the web site, social network or publication in question.
Based on our experience, we believe that sooner or later, search portals
will have to remove all personal information. It is true however that
certain web sites deny cancelation rights, arguing in accordance with other
rights, such as freedom of expression. Our professional experience also
confirms that many citizens have particular interest in recognizing this
“new right.” This is especially true for people who wish to erase sensitive
data, including information that can only be processed by written consent,
such as health statements and ideological positions. It is becoming
increasingly common for people to be damaged by the diffusion of false,
inaccurate, or outdated information, or even by slander and insults that
directly affect their personal, family, social, and professional lives.
The right to be forgotten is not unconditional. The European Court of
Justice has deemed it necessary to require an assessment of the specific
circumstances in each case, in order to weigh the interest of the search
engine user, the affected person, and the managers of the search engine.
For now we have only seen the first chapter of a legal battle with
international range in this field of technology. It is necessary to wait
and see just how the rule concerning the digital right to be forgotten can
be applied to the other legal processes taking place in the Spanish courts.
When this happens, we will be able to confirm that citizens are effectively
protected from unlawful processing of personal data by search engines–a
processing which is aggravated by search engines’ visibility and universal
dissemination of personal data that could not otherwise be found or would
require excessive effort to discover.
(*) Lawyer. Specialist in Administrative, Technological, and Geospatial Law
– Law Firm, Mas y Calvet (Spain)