Europe's censorship law has been causing any number of difficulties for European search engines ever since a ruling by the European Court of Justice confirmed the "right to be forgotten" in May, and now the problems have spread internationally.
A recent court ruling in France finds Google's French subsidiary being penalized for the actions of its US-based parent. From The Guardian:
Google’s French subsidiary has been ordered to pay daily fines of €1,000 unless links to a defamatory article are removed from the parent company’s entire global network.
The punitive judgment by the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, based on the controversial right to be forgotten online established by the European Court of Justice, breaks new ground in making the subsidiary liable for the activities of its parent company – in this case Google Inc.
The court handed down the ruling in September but it has barely been reported reported outside France. At one level, the decision represents a pioneering attempt by a European court to enforce its order of justice on the internet worldwide.
The case was brought by Dan Shefet, a Danish lawyer who works in France. Shefet says that he and his law firm had been the subject of a defamation campaign. He filed for Google to remove search results which led to blog posts and sites related to the supposed campaign, which Google did for its Google.fr search engine.
According to The Guardian, Shefet sued Google last year. "We obtained a court order on August 6 2013 from the court in Paris enjoining both Google France and Google Inc to cease referencing the URLs in question," Shefet explained. "Google France complied, but in spite of serving judgment on Google Inc nothing happened. They simply didn't comply and didn't even respond to the French court order."
It's not clear to me how he sued Google in 2013 without any news site noticing that this individual was censoring Google, but that is what several sources are reporting (including in French and Danish).
Do you know what's also not clear to me? Why this would be covered under the "right to be forgotten". That is for personal info, not professional, and arguably does not apply in circumstances where someone is targeting a law firm with a smear campaign.
Following the May ruling, Shefet sued Google again earlier this year and got a ruling which fined Google France for the actions of its parent company.
At the time of the ruling in September, it was reported that Google had received 135 thousand requests to remove links relating to 470 thousand individual pages. Google has declined around 60% of the requests on the grounds that they related to professional rather than private life, but as the search engine giant has been getting a thousand requests per day the number of censored links is growing.
A Google spokesperson said: "This was initially a defamation case and it began before the CJEU ruling on the right to be forgotten. We are reviewing the ruling and considering our options. More broadly, the right to be forgotten raises some difficult issues and so we’re seeking advice – both from data protection authorities and via our Advisory Council – on the principles we should apply when making these difficult decisions."
I thought that this legal concept was a terrible idea when I reported on it in May, and my opinion hasn't changed in the intervening months.
A right to be forgotten is a right to censor. While it is now in the hands of the individual and is only limited to search results, it is a safe bet that the right will be expanded, and eventually come under control of the State.