Google was recently pitted against Spain's data protection agency, in the case of Google Spain, S.L. Google, Inc. v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, Mario Costejo Gonzalez, in Europe's highest court in a landmark case that could have global implications. A panel of 15 judges is asked to decide the question at issue, which is, what information is really private?
The European Union Court of Justice has been asked to render an opinion regarding the following fact pattern: if any person fails to pay their taxes and their house is later auctioned off as a result of this nonpayment, does this individual then have the right to ask Google to delete such information from its search engine?
The issue before the European Court is highly complex and presents a great number of issues regarding the free flow of information, privacy rights, what it means to be a publisher of this type of information and who ultimately is to be the policing authority over information disseminated over the Internet. This case stems from a lawsuit instituted by a man from Spain who while searching Google discovered an announcement in a newspaper, from several years earlier, stating that a property which he owned was being sold at auction because of his nonpayment of social security.
The Audiencia Nacional, one of the top appellate courts in Spain, upheld this gentleman's complaint and ruled that Google should delete the information from its search results. The case was then appealed to the court of justice after Google challenged this decision. The lawyers for Google will argue that they should not have to erase content, of a lawful nature, which it did not create, from its search engine index. Lawyers for Spanish officials will argue that Google should be forced to delete information from its search engine index where an individual's privacy rights are violated.
These very complex issues will also include whether or not Google can be considered to be the "controller" or just a host of this information. The Court will also be asked to determine whether a search engine for a California-based company can be subject to European Union privacy laws. Spain's regulators have asked the EU judges to consider whether European citizens have to go to United States courts to litigate their privacy rights and whether Google " is responsible for the damage the diffusion of personal information can cause for citizens."
At issue is a draft European law that aims to strengthen the European citizens' privacy rights. The proposed rules by the European Commission in 2012, which are being debated by the European Parliament, would give citizens " the right to be forgotten"-that is, the right to have personal data deleted from the Internet. This proposed legislation has drawn sharp criticism from industry experts who say that content on the Internet could be manipulated at the expense of a person's right to freedom of speech if such a principle were to be enacted in European law.
Spain, which has approximately 200 similar cases, referred the matter to the EU's highest appellate court to clarify how the proposed EU law should be applied, especially as it relates to Google. This case is being argued in Luxembourg and it is estimated that that a decision will be handed down by the end of the year. The ruling will be binding on courts in the 27 nation European union.
Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyer at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. He is a member of the CT DMV Commissioner's Advisory Committee on Teen Safe Driving. He has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.