Google Loses Landmark "Right to Be Forgotten" Case

right to be forgotten

Britain’s High Court has made a historic decision on the right to force removal of search results about criminal past.

The court ruled on the circumstances when a businessman has the right to demand the removal of search results about their criminal record in a landmark “right to be forgotten” case (NT1 & NT2 v Google LLC [2018] EWHC 799 (QB)). The case concerns two plaintiffs with different convictions, which makes it especially interesting.

According to the ruling, the "right to be forgotten" is determined not so much by the severity of the crime but by the nature of the offence: the right, apparently, doesn’t exist if the crime is connected with the abuse of trust. Trust, once lost, is lost forever.

Two plaintiffs, referred to as NT1 and NT2, demanded that Google would remove search results relating to their criminal convictions, including links to newspapers and other media. Google refused to do so and the plaintiffs went to court.

The court rejected a claim by the plaintiff who in the late 1990s was sentenced to four years of conspiracy to account falsely and satisfied the claim brought by the other plaintiff sentenced to six months of conspiracy to intercept other people's communications.

Explaining his decision, Judge Warby pointed out that the first plaintiff misled society, while the crime of the second plaintiff did not involve the deception of "consumers, buyers or investors". “There is not [a] plausible suggestion ... that there is a risk that this wrongdoing will be repeated by the claimant. The information is of scant if any apparent relevance to any business activities that he seems likely to engage in,” the judge added.

He pointed out that his decision with regard to the second plaintiff was based on the fact that “the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability”.

The advocate of the first plaintiff stated that his client was not a public person and was engaged in commercial lending and construction financing.

He also pointed out that it is customary nowadays to check information on Google prior to meeting someone. Many people in their youth violate the law and attracting the attention of third parties to misdeeds from the distant past is essentially a separate punishment that has no time limit.

The judge, however, did not accept this argument pointing out that the plaintiff continues to engage in business, and "information [about his past conviction] is necessary to minimize the risk that he will again deceive, as it was in the past. Although the removal of this information from the search results does not mean the destruction of the information itself, but significantly hampers its finding. "

In 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that "irrelevant" and obsolete information should be removed at the request of the interested party. Since then, Google has received at least 2.4 million requests to erase information from search results. Search engines, can reject such applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.