The European Court of Justice is going head-to-head with Google over the controversial ‘right to be forgotten’ – an individual’s right to have their personal information removed from a search engine’s results.

What is the ‘right to be forgotten’?

The right to be forgotten is an aspect of EU data privacy law that gives EU citizens the right to edit aspects of their digital footprint, specifically search results about them.

Individuals have the right to have outdated, inaccurate or irrelevant information about them removed from search results upon request, unless it is deemed to be of public interest.

However, France’s data regulator is now pushing to extend the law. It claims that although information that has been removed is not visible in the EU, the search results still appear outside of the EU.

If the regulator is successful, the search engine could be banned from including information about an individual in search results anywhere in the world, and could be subject to fines if it doesn’t abide.

The court is currently hearing from stakeholders and is due to reach a final decision in 2019.

Google vs the European Union

The law originates back in 2014, when the European Court of Justice ruled that Google had to remove data on Spanish national Mario Costeja on the grounds that it was outdated or irrelevant, after he took the tech giant to court after information about his house being repossessed appeared on the search engine.

A similar case was resolved earlier this year, when a UK High Court ruled that a UK businessman could have information related to a crime he committed in the 1990s removed from search results.

Although welcomed by some, others have opposed the court’s decisions, arguing that the right to be forgotten limits free speech and freedom of information.

In a blog post, the tech giant has strongly opposed the extension of the right, arguing that it could be used as a form of censorship and that it “represent a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information.”