Google was told by a London judge to remove links to older stories about a businessman’s criminal conviction from search results, in the U.K.’s first case over Europe’s “Right to Be Forgotten” law.
Justice Mark Warby said in a ruling Friday that one story in a national U.K. newspaper was “misleading as to the nature and extent of the claimant’s criminality.” Warby further said all 11 articles related to the man should be delisted by Google.
“The crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google Search,” Warby said. A second businessman failed in his bid to have links to articles taken down.
Google is fighting court cases and privacy regulators across Europe over how far it should go to delete links. The Alphabet Inc. unit must remove information about a person on request if it’s outdated or irrelevant under a 2014 European Union top court ruling.
“We work hard to comply with the Right to be Forgotten, but we take great care not to remove search results that are in the public interest and will defend the public’s right to access lawful information,” Mountain View, California-based Google said in a statement.
The court refused to award damages to the businessman, saying Google took reasonable care in the case.
“We are pleased that the Court recognized our efforts in this area, and we will respect the judgments they have made in this case,” the company said.
The two men, who can’t be identified because of a court order, had asked that links to information on their old convictions be taken down. Under English law designed to rehabilitate offenders, those convictions don’t have to be disclosed to potential employers and can effectively be ignored.
The Right to Be Forgotten can be interpreted in various ways by courts throughout Europe.
In a ruling last month, Paris judges said that Google had to reduce the visibility of stories about a former chief financial officer at a French company who was fined 200,000 euros ($247,000) for civil insider-trading violations.
The judges said the right to privacy should prevail after laying down a series of benchmarks including impact on work and family life that dictated whether results should be easily available. The ruling pointed out that this father-of-four didn’t profit financially from the violations and was at risk of losing his job again unless the articles were brought down in search results with his name.
“Given his family situation, the loss of his job would cause him a very serious prejudice, especially given that it took him nearly two years to find a new job,” the judges said. In those circumstances, “the public interest in having information with his name about this case doesn’t prevail.”
At the heart of the precedent-setting disputes is a balancing act between the right to a private life and the right to freedom of expression, both of which were established in the European Convention on Human Rights. A Google search brings up the information “through a few key strokes,” undermining the law about such older convictions where a defendant has paid his debt to society, Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for one of the businessmen, said at an earlier court hearing.
“As things disappear into the past and people don’t know about them, they become part of a private life,” Tomlinson, who once represented Sienna Miller in phone-hacking lawsuits against News Corp., told the court.
The two linked cases are: NT1 v. Google and NT2 v. Google, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Case No.’s HQ15X04128 and HQ15X04127.