The Global Network Initiative welcomes the announcement that Google is appealing a French data protection authority ruling requiring the global take-down of links to search information banned in France under Europe’s “Right to be Forgotten”.
We are concerned that the ruling, made by Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL) in March, sets a disturbing precedent for the cause of an open and free Internet, and sends the message to other countries that they can force the banning of search results not just inside their own jurisdictions, but assert that jurisdiction across the globe.
Google began delisting search content in response to the Costeja ruling in July of 2014. Search links that are delisted in response to French citizens’ requests are removed from the local French domain (google.fr) as well as all of Europe. In early 2016 the company announced that it would further restrict access to links delisted in Europe by using geolocation technology to restrict access to the content on any Google Search domain when an individual searches from France. Despite this, the French authorities continue to demand global removal of these links from all Google search domains – regardless of from where in the world they are accessed.
“We are concerned about the impact of the CNIL order, which effectively allows the government of one country to dictate what the rest of the world is allowed to access online,” said GNI Board Chair Mark Stephens, CBE. “Enshrined in international law is the principle that one country cannot infringe upon the rights of citizens of other country,” he said.
Online search engines and intermediaries are vital tools to inform public discourse, hold the powerful to account, and highlight injustice.
“The right of academics, journalists, historians and all citizens to access complete and uncensored information is the bedrock of civic participation and a free society,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg.
“This ruling could set the stage for a global internet where the most censored and repressive societies will effectively dictate the standard for all humanity,” Mr Stephens said.
It is highly problematic that the authorities in one country should be able to force the global removal of search information that even if deemed inadequate, inaccurate or irrelevant under the criteria of the Costeja ruling, is arguably still lawful, and is publicly available in other countries. That same information could also be the subject of legal protections in other countries. This includes laws that criminalize the criticism of leaders and governments, and laws that ban content pertaining to religious or ethnic minorities, LGBT people, or relating to women’s health.
Previous statements from GNI about the implications of the global enforcement of the ‘Right to Be Forgotten’, can be found on our website.