In May 2014, we reported on the implications of the landmark decision in Google Spain which recognises the right for individuals to have links about themselves de-listed from search results. In response to the complaints received, the Article 29 Working Party (Art 29 WP) published a report on work being carried out to handle complaints, and the European Commission (Commission) published a report dispelling myths on the “rights and wrongs of the so-called right to be forgotten”.

Following the CJEU’s ruling, Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) have received numerous complaints about search engines’ refusals to de-list results. In response, the Art 29 WP produced a common ‘tool box’ to produce a coordinated approach to handling complaints by putting together a network of dedicated persons to handle complaints, with the aim to also create a common decision-making process.

To dispel the myths on the implications of the right to be forgotten, the Commission’s report addresses concerns that have arisen, and attempts to correct misinterpretations of the judgment.

Myths the Commission seeks to dispel include:

  • The judgment requires deletion of content. In reality, the content can still be found through the same search engine based on a different query.
  • The judgment contradicts freedom of expression. The ruling does not give the ‘all clear’ for people or organisations to have search results removed from the web simply because they find them inconvenient.
  • The judgment promotes censorship. The right to be forgotten does not allow governments to decide what can and cannot be online. Search engine operators will act under the supervision of national DPAs, and the national court will have the final say on whether a fair balance between the right to personal data protection and the freedom of expression was met.

The reports illustrate how the “right to be forgotten” has been widely misinterpreted, and they seek to create widespread understanding of the judgment, including clarifying the extent of EU citizens’ rights.

While clarifying the scope of the right, the Art 29 WP also complicated matters for search engines by stating that the right applies globally, not just to EU-related domains, such as .co, .uk or .es.