The right to be forgotten may apply all over the world

4 maj 2017

The Swedish Data Protection Authority (DPA) has checked how Google handles the "right to be forgotten", i.e. the possibility to have search results deleted. The DPA concludes that if Google is required to delete the result of a search, it may also be necessary to delete the search result when searches are made from other countries outside of Sweden.

In May 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) concluded that an individual may request that search engines, such as Google, delete search results that include the individual's name if the search results are inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive. This opportunity is sometimes referred to as the "right to be forgotten".

After the ECJ judgement, thousands of persons have turned to Google and asked them to delete results of searches made on the basis of their names. Some of those who have not had their search results deleted have submitted complaints to the Swedish DPA. Out of these, the DPA has selected thirteen complaints and analyzed these further. The complaints that have been selected all refer to cases that involve new questions as well as problems in terms of delimitation.

One complaint refers to a person with the same name as a person who has been pointed out as a criminal offender in a discussion forum. Both Google and the DPA however, take the view that the search results do not include personal data about the complainant and that, therefore, no search results had to be deleted.

Another complaint comes from a person who felt that it was harmful that the first hit following a search on his/her name indicated that the person was registered in Lexbase, which is a database with judicial information collected from Swedish authorities. The DPA, however, considers that information indicating that someone is registered in Lexbase cannot in itself be seen as harmful.

A third complaint refers to a person who had set up an organization for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Sweden and who wanted to delete search results to a xenophobic webpage that published information about him/her in a derogatory way. Google considers that the web page contains political criticism of the complainant and that his/her role in public life is of general interest. The DPA, however, concludes that the search result must be deleted since it refers to information of a personal nature which is irrelevant for the criticism made towards the person in capacity of representative of the organization.

An important part of the DPA's investigation has been to analyze how a search result should be deleted. If a person in Sweden claims the right to be forgotten, does the search result only have to be deleted following searches made in Sweden? Made in Europe? Or made anywhere in the world?

The DPA's assessment is that the obligation to delete search results means that results must be deleted in such a way that they are not shown when searches are made from Sweden.

- But, there may be situations where search results must be deleted also when searches are made from other countries. This may be the case if there is a specific connection to Sweden and to the data subject, for example if the information on the webpage which is linked to is written in Swedish, addressed to a Swedish audience, contains information about a person that is in Sweden or if the information has been published on the Swedish domain .se, says Martin Brinnen, legal advisor within the Swedish DPA.

Read the DPA's decision in pdf. (in Swedish)

For more information, please contact
Martin Brinnen, Legal Advisor, 08-657 61 08
Per Lövgren, Press Secretary 070-736 10 80

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