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Spain orders Google to delete citizens' data from search engine results, media reports

The Spanish Government has ordered Google to delete information about 90 individuals from its search engine indexes, according to media reports.10 Aug 2011

The Government believes that the individuals have a right to be forgotten, but Google has said that requiring search engines to ignore some information would negatively impinge on free speech, according to the New York Times. A court will determine whether the individuals' details should be deleted.

The 90 individuals all lodged formal complaints with Spain's Data Protection Agency (DPA). In one case a domestic violence victim discovered that her address could be found through Google, whilst one middle aged woman was able to find information about her arrest as a student through the search engine, according to the New York Times' report.

In Spain an official Government gazette, containing information about citizens, is published online. The gazette has been published for 350 years but for the past two years has been made available online in an effort to improve transparency, the publisher of the gazette said, according to the New York Times.

"But maybe there is information that has a life cycle and only has value for a certain time," Fernando Pérez said, according to the report.

Spanish law forces the information to be included in the official gazette, Jesús Rubi, deputy director of the Spanish DPA said, according to the report.

“The law obliges us to put this info in the gazette. But I am sure that if the law was written today, lawmakers would say 'OK, publish this, but it should not be accessible by a search engine',” Rubi said.

Google said preventing some data being accessed through search engines "would have a profound chilling effect on free expression without protecting people’s privacy,” according to the report.

Both the right to a private life and the right to freedom of expression are guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Plans to give EU citizens more rights over information about them stored on the internet was hinted at by Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner in June.

In a speech on data protection and privacy at the British Bankers' Association (BBA) Reding said she did not accept that it is impossible to give individuals the right to be forgotten.

"I do not approach this subject of the 'right to be forgotten' lightly. I know that there is a balance to be struck with freedom of expression. It may also call for some flexibility in the way this balance is struck, but I cannot accept that individuals have no say over their data once it has been launched into cyberspace," Reding said in her speech.

Plans to reform EU data protection laws are expected to be announced later this year. The European Commission has cited a need to update the laws to reflect technological advances. Current EU data protection laws stem from the Data Protection Directive which was established in 1995.

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