The Court of Justice of the European Union will today consider a request from Spain’s National Court for an interpretation of European law on online data protection and, in particular, its applicability to a legal case involving Google and a Spanish citizen.
The European court’s interpretation will effect future judicial decisions throughout the European Union.
The Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja, filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) against Google and the newspaper La Vanguardia on 9 March 2012 after discovering that a Google search for his name produced results referring to the auction of real estate property seized from him for non-payment of social security contributions.
The AEPD rejected Costeja’s complaint against the newspaper on the grounds that “the publication of the information was legal and was protected by the right to information” but, with extraordinary inconsistency, upheld his complaint his complaint against Google, ordering the search engine to eliminate about 100 links from all future searches for Costeja’s name.
Google refused to accept the ruling and filed an appeal, which will be considered today. It is one of a total of 200 cases that Google is currently contesting before the Spanish courts.
“We urge the Court of Justice to reject the Spanish Data Protection Agency’s decision, which could set a dangerous precedent,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The agency wants to force a search engine to do something that the law forbids in the case of traditional media. “The issue of the liability and neutrality of search engines, Internet Service Providers and other technical intermediaries is at stake. They cannot be held liable for online content. They are just the intermediaries of services for those who publish content on the Internet. The links generated by a Google search are an integral part of the right to information as they facilitate access.”
The practice of targeting printers to prevent a newspaper from being printed is well known and still used in some countries. If Google were forced to withdraw these links, it would add a digital dimension to this repressive practice. Its emergence in Spain would be a disaster for the European model and would be exploited by regimes in other regions that control online information.