On September 24, 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of Google after the company appealed. The Court found that Google is not forced to censor its search results on a global scale and is only required to remove outdated or irrelevant links on its European sites. The ruling stated, “Currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject… to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine”. Nonetheless, the Court found that States within the EU may continue to analyze a person or company’s right to privacy against the right to freedom of information on a case-by-case basis. The ruling prevents States from potentially imposing laws limiting freedom of speech on an international scale.
In January 2019 different sources reported that Google was forced to remove search results related to the name of a suspended Dutch surgeon in light of the EU “right to be forgotten“.
In this case, the Dutch surgeon was initially suspended because she had allegedly been negligent in the post-operative care of a patient. After an appeal the surgeon’s punishment was reduced to a conditional suspension, allowing her to continue to practice.
However, when people searched the surgeon’s name on Google, her name appeared on an unofficial blacklist of doctors.
The surgeon attempted to have the links to her name removed, but both Google and the Dutch data protection authority, Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, rejected her request in the name of public interest.
According to this source, the district court of Amsterdam then overturned the Dutch DPA ruling deeming that the surgeon’s right to be forgotten weighed more heavily than the interest of the public to be informed.
The judge found that while the information on Google (and the third party blacklist) was correct, it was not updated with the latest disciplinary panel’s findings. As a result, when the surgeon’s name showed up in the blacklist, people viewed it negatively. This was not the disciplinary panel finding and the judge ruled that the surgeon’s right to privacy weighed more heavily than the interest of the public to have her name showing up in the non-official blacklist search result.
According to the doctor’s lawyer, in the Netherlands, there is a governmental registry that includes all the names of the reprimanded doctors. The official list is “very easy to find out online, but it doesn’t show up in Google search results immediately when you query the doctor’s name. And it’s not called a blacklist for doctors.” The public should consult the official regulator’s website, not Google or other third parties in order to find out a doctor’s fitness to practice.
According to this source, Google appealed the decision.
January 21, 2019, episode transcript with the lawyer of the surgeon, Willem Van Lynden, is available at https://www.cbc.ca…
More information is available at https://www.dutchnews.nl… and https://www.theguardian.com…
For more information about how privacy is implemented in Europe, contact Francesca Giannoni-Crystal & Federica Romanelli.