Judging freedom of expression at Europe’s highest court

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 9:11 AM

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Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg will hear arguments in a case that aims to determine whether search engines can be ordered to block search results that link to valid, legal content on Spanish newspaper and government websites.

Over the years, we have consistently stood up for the principle that where legal online content is concerned, only the publisher of that content can make the decision, or be ordered, to remove content from the web.

In the case before the CJEU today - one that is representative of around 180 similar Spanish cases - Google declined to comply with an order from the Spanish Data Protection Authority. We were asked to remove links from our search results that point to a legal notice published in a newspaper. The notice, announcing houses being auctioned off as part of a legal proceeding, is required under Spanish law and includes factually correct information that is still publicly available on the newspaper’s website.

There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online.

We believe the answer to that question is "no". Search engines point to information that is published online - and in this case to information that had to be made public, by law. In our view, only the original publisher can take the the decision to remove such content. Once removed from the source webpage, content will disappear from a search engine's index.

Of course, there will also be times when information is published online that is subsequently found by a court to be incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal. Such content can be removed from the source website and from search engines. But search engines should not be subject to censorship of legitimate content for the sake of privacy - or for any other reason.



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