Google loses ‘right to be forgotten’ case

A recent High Court case has changed the landscape regarding the information that Google and other web search engines are allowed to retain and publish.

The case was brought to court by a businessman whose past criminal activity could be found in a Google search. The High Court ruled in his favour and it is thought that there will now be an influx of requests from applicants seeking removal of controversial articles relating to their past. The 'right to be forgotten' allows individuals to request that web links to information about themselves be removed from the internet if it is no longer relevant.

The claimant, known as NT2, was convicted of conspiracy to intercept communications and was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

NT2 originally submitted a request to Google to remove search results which linked to articles about historic criminal convictions dating back more than 10 years. He relied on data protection law and the tort of misuse of private information. Google refused the request and as a result NT2 brought the case to the High Court. The issues included whether the listing of web links to articles involved an unjustified interference with privacy rights and if so whether damages should be awarded.

The following points were noted in the judgment:
1. The crime committed and punishment was outdated, irrelevant and of no legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability.
2. The web links were misleading as to the nature, extent and profit of the claimant's criminality
3. The claimant was remorseful and guilt had been acknowledged
4. The past offence was of minor relevance to NT2's suitability to engage in business activity now or in the future

The judge stated that his conviction related to the invasion of privacy by third parties in oppose to actions made by him towards consumers, customers and investors.

It was held that NT2's conviction was spent under Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974and there was no reason to suspect that he would reoffend. Following the judgment, a delisting order was made Delisting web links will not erase information from the internet, rather it will make it harder to find online. No award for damages was made as Google had taken reasonable care in handling the request from the outset.

The case was brought alongside a second claim by NT1. NT1 had been convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s and was sentenced to four years imprisonment. The offence related to a property business in which NT1 was dealing with members of the public.

The Judge decided that the convictions related to NT1's business rather than his personal life and as a result was public by nature. As NT1 was still in business, the information had the purpose of minimising future risk of reoffending.

This case is significant as it will have a strong impact on future requests for delisting web links which provide personal information about individuals, namely criminal convictions. The outcome of both cases shows that the right to be forgotten concept is dependent on the severity of the offence, mitigating factors, the sentence imposed and the risk of further offending. This decision will pave the way for those with past convictions appearing online to submit a request for removal.

We are experts in matters regarding your personal information; if you need advice on the right to be forgotten, contact us today.

Contact us on 02076324300  or complete our online enquiry form.


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