France takes Google to court to control content globally
France is headed to the European Court of Justice to establish whether it can force companies such as Google to de-list search results globally.
France’s data regulator is seeking clarification on whether material removed under the “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) law should only be removed within France or if it should be de-listed on every Google domain.
RTBF was established in 2014 when a man called Mario Costeja complained that searching for his name on Google returned out-of-date material about an unsettled debt and didn’t reveal that his debt was settled.
He won his case, and now the RTBF allows ordinary people to demand that Google amends its search results and de-lists links to “inadequate, irrelevant or […] excessive” information. Although the material itself remains online, it can’t be found through searches using the individual’s name.
Now, France’s data regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), is seeking to extend this power to allow it to remove links from not just google.fr but all Google domains.
Google and a group of eight international free speech organisations are warning that such an extension could encourage authoritarian states such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to similarly attempt to control the global internet.
Media organisations have also filed a statement regarding the protracted battle between CNIL and Google, arguing that the global application of the RTBF is “incompatible with fundamental rights and freedoms and international law”.
Thomas Hughes, the executive director of freedom of expression organisation Article 19, said: “This case could see the right to be forgotten threatening global free speech.”
Mr Hughes, who is leading an intervention in the case, added: “European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what internet users around the world find when they use a search engine.
“The ECJ must limit the scope of the right to be forgotten in order to protect the right of internet users around the world to access information online.
“If European regulators can tell Google to remove all references to a website, then it will be only a matter of time before countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia start to do the same.
“The [ECJ] should protect freedom of expression, not set a global precedent for censorship.”
Google did not immediately respond to Sky’s request for comment.
The hearing will take place in Luxembourg on 11 September. A judgment is not expected until early 2019.