As Google continues its legal battle with the Spanish Data Protection Authority (DPA), the Spanish High Court (Audiencia Nacional) has referred several questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The questions cover whether individuals have the right to demand the removal and blocking of information contained within Internet search results, even though that information was lawfully collected and accurate at the time of collection. Such search results may have a negative or harmful effect on the individual since the information could potentially be available “over the lifetime of an individual and that of his descendants.”

The case at issue related to a person who, when searching his name, was provided with search results relating to a newspaper advertisement for the auction of his property stemming from an old and subsequently resolved debt. The individual had requested Google to remove the search result, and when it did not do so, complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency, which upheld the complaint and required Google to amend the search results. As the advertisement had been published in a newspaper, Google felt that the search result should not be taken down, and appealed.

One of the issues referred to the ECJ is whether the Spanish court has jurisdiction over Google, Inc. as a data controller or whether the issue should be tried in a California court, since Google’s local subsidiary only sells advertising to the California parent. The Spanish DPA found jurisdiction on the basis that Google Spain has a sufficient presence in Spain, operates a Spanish top level domain (ccTLD), and processes personal data about Spanish citizens.

A second important question to be answered by the ECJ is whether Google can be classified as a “data controller, rather than only a host. Google argues that it did not produce the information in question, but merely displayed it in search results, and that data would disappear from the search index as soon as it was no longer available from the source web page. Additionally, Google asked the court to consider its rights to the freedom of expression. It argued that forcing it to remove the search results would be detrimental to the public interest, as “there are clear societal reasons” why information about valid legal material which still exists online should be publicly available.

ECJ advocate-general is anticipated to publish an opinion on the matter June 25, and the judges are expected to rule on the matter by the end of the year.