The European Court of Justice has limited the reach of the privacy law known as “the right to be forgotten”.
The court has ruled that the online right does not extend beyond the borders of the European Union.
The landmark ruling will restrict people’s ability to control what information is available about them on the internet.
This will also have severe implications for the regulation of the internet.
The court ruled that the privacy rule cannot be applied outside the European Union and said Europe could not impose the right to be forgotten on countries that did not recognize the law.
It also said that the right to free expression and information must be weighed carefully before deleting links related to certain categories of personal data.
The court ruled that search engine operators faced no obligation to remove information outside the 28-country zone.
The court ruled that there “is no obligation under EU law for a search engine operator” to extend beyond the EU member states the court’s previous ruling that people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online.
The right to be forgotten standard was established in 2014 and can be used to force Google and other search engines to delete links to websites, news articles and databases that include personal information considered old, no longer relevant or not in the public interest.
The law required search engines to delete embarrassing or out-of-date information, when requested by the individuals concerned.
Critics of the ruling say that limiting the geographical reach of the right to be forgotten is a victory for Google.
There were calls for the social media giant and other search engines to take down links worldwide – a move they opposed as it could lead to widespread censorship.
Google claims it has received 845,501 “right to be forgotten” requests in the past five years, leading to the removal of 45% of the 3.3m links referred to in the requests.
The content itself remains online, but it cannot be found through online searches of the individual’s name.
The case originated in a dispute between Google and the French privacy regulator CNIL.
In 2015, CNIL called for the tech giant to remove links to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.
In response, Google introduced a geo-blocking feature in 2016 which stopped European users from being able to see delisted links.
However, it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world, challenging a €100,000 (£88,376) fine CNIL tried to impose.
Google argued that, if this rule were applied outside Europe, the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.
Peter Fleischer, Google’s senior privacy counsel, said: “Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy. It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments.”
Thomas Hughes, executive director of the freedom of expression organisation Article 19, described the ruling as a victory for global freedom of expression. “Courts or data regulators in the UK, France or Germany should not be able to determine the search results that internet users in America, India or Argentina get to see … It is not right that one country’s data protection authorities can impose their interpretation on Internet users around the world.”