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Argentine search engines told to block famous names

Search engines in Argentina have been banned from linking to stories naming up to 100 famous people including football legend Diego Maradona in a move critics have said is tantamount to censorship.12 Nov 2008

Google and Yahoo! have filtered search results relating to the names on their Argentine sites but not their international ones, the companies told internet filtering campaigning organisation the OpenNet Initiative (ONI).

Yahoo! has blocked all search results for the individuals, and has published a notice instead of results. That notice, in an automatic translation, says: "Because of a court order sought by private parties, we have been forced to temporarily remove some or all of the search results".

No final court ruling has been made on the cases but temporary orders have been issued restricting search engines from publishing search results relating to 100 people including public servants, judges, models and actors.

Martin Leguizamón Pena has said that he is the lawyer behind 108 applications to Argentinian courts since 2006 seeking the blocking of Google and Yahoo! search results relating to his clients.

He told Argentina's News Magazine that he had been successful in 80% of the cases and that he took the action to protect the image rights, privacy and honour of his clients.

Local press reports claim that some of the orders sought by Pena relate to specific articles, sites or blogs and some relate to the blocking of anything produced by a particular search term or name or a combination of search terms or names.

Google's manager of government affairs and public policy for Latin America Pedro Less Andrade wrote in a Google blog last month that the court measures "violate both the freedom of expression and access to information … impacting on the development and investment in local connectivity services and the information society". Quotations from his blog posting have been automatically translated.

Andrade also suggested that Google may appeal some of the orders if it believed that they are without basis, technically impossible, disproportionate to the aim behind the order or affect users' rights to freedom of expression and censorship-free communication.

The blocking only relates to the Argentinian versions of Google's and Yahoo!'s search engines. All the material will be viewable through the .com global versions or through other countries' versions of the search engines.

Wendy Seltzer founded Chilling Effects, which campaigns to stop abuses of the law to undermine free speech. She told campaigners ONI that the Argentinian action was "a telling example of the fragmentation of the internet via intermediaries. Rather than going directly to the source of objectionable content, complainers find someone in the middle who can be persuaded to block access in at least some locations."

"This kind of takedown often obscures the source of the objections and removals," she said. "Chilling Effects aims to add transparency to the process both by showing takedown demands and by allowing people to compare results across various localized versions of search engines."