The European highest court has ruled that Google is not obliged to stop sensitive information from appearing in search results worldwide.
The ruling was given on Tuesday in a move greeted by advocacy groups for freedom of information.
While search engines are obliged to remove results containing personal information at an individual’s request in some cases in the EU, the scope of EU law did not justify the same actions outside of the bloc, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found.
The ruling is one of two made by Luxembourg judges on Tuesday that set out the lengths to which search engine operators must go to stop personal information showing up in internet searches – the so-called right to be forgotten – in line with an individual’s wishes.
A French court sought further clarity from the EU top court on how far companies must go to comply with a 2014 ECJ ruling that search engines must remove links to personal information that are “inadequate, irrelevant… or excessive.”
Such de-referencing does not remove such information from the internet entirely, but it does stop relevant links being returned in searches.
In the second case, ECJ judges also found that Google was not compelled to delete search results linking individuals’ names to sensitive personal information at their request in a blanket manner.
The Luxembourg judges noted that requests to delete links revealing personal information – for example, on race, ethnicity, ideological persuasion or sexual behaviour – could be granted on grounds of privacy.
But search engine operators should assess each request on a case-by-case basis to discern whether the public’s right to information trumped an individual’s right to privacy.
The case centered on Google’s refusal to remove at the request of several French complainants search results including an article describing one as a public relations officer for the Church of Scientology and the sentencing of another for the sexual assault of minors.
Reporters Without Borders Germany and freedom of information group Article 19, which petitioned the ECJ on the case, welcomed the ruling.
“Courts or data regulators in [Britain], France or Germany should not be able to determine the search results that internet users in America, India or Argentina get to see,” Article 19’s director Thomas Hughes said in a statement.