ln a ruling that may have legal implications on a worldwide scale, France’s data-protection regulator rejected Google’s appeal of its decision to widen and expand Europe’s “right to be forgotten” to all of Google’s websites as opposed to just the European versions. The ruling likely will lead to a lengthy and protracted legal battle.
The Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (“CNIL”), ruled that Google must follow a formal order that was handed down earlier this spring directing the company to apply the right to be forgotten to all of Google’s domain names, including Google.com, rather than just local European ones, such as Google.fr. The ruling also states that if Google fails to do so, it faces possible sanctions.
The dispute between Google and the CNIL began in 2014 when the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) determined that European citizens have the right to request that Internet search engines remove sensitive or embarrassing search results that include their name.
Since that determination was made, Google has been implementing the ruling, but it has only removed such links from its European website domains and not from sites such as Google.com. Furthermore, Google has continued to maintain this policy even after the CNIL issued the company a formal notice ordering the company to apply the ECJ ruling to all of its websites internationally.
Google has been trying to convince the CNIL to reverse its order – to no avail. In fact, Google said it would fight any such order on a matter of principle.
As of now, the CNIL can issue initial fines of up to $165,000 – pittance compared to Google’s annual revenue of $66 billion. However, any sanction can be appealed.
In its appeal to the CNIL, Google argued that applying the right to be forgotten beyond Europe’s borders could set a precedent for more authoritarian governments to apply Internet censorship beyond their borders. The CNIL did not buy the argument.
In its order rejecting Google’s appeal, the CNIL said that, contrary to Google’s position, the CNIL was not trying to apply the law to countries outside of Europe, but rather, simply to apply European law to companies doing business in Europe. The regulators further stated that Google’s attempts to circumvent the law makes it very easy for individuals or entities to find private information that individuals have requested to be forgotten – thereby undermining the intent of the ruling.
In response to its appeal rejection, Google stated that, “As a matter of principle, we respectfully disagree with the idea that one national data protection authority can assert global authority to control the content that people can access around the world.” When the initial ruling was handed down in July, Google stated that the order was “disproportionate and unnecessary” as most French Internet users access the European versions of Google rather than international versions of the search engine.