The European Union’s “right to be forgotten” has been around for more than a year now. As of December there’s even a framework for standardizing how search engine companies should evaluate and carry out right-to-be-forgotten requests. But some regulators want to take the controversial idea a step further.
In a blog post on Thursday, Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer laid out the company’s response to an order from the CNIL, France’s data protection agency. In June, the CNIL ordered that under right to be forgotten, Google should remove links in search results worldwide.
The agency said in a statement, “The CNIL considers that in order to be effective, delisting must be carried out on all extensions of the search engine and that the service provided by Google search constitutes a single processing.” The idea is that results shouldn’t just be removed from www.google.fr and other European Google versions; they should be removed on all of them everywhere.
Google strongly disagrees. Fleischer wrote:
While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally. Moreover, there are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others … If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.
Taking France as an example, to respond to CNIL, Fleischer also pointed out that 97 percent of French Google users access the company’s services through www.google.fr, so it’s not like French users are frequently encountering links that they shouldn’t see under right to be forgotten.
The CNIL said that Google had 15 days to begin removing links from its global search engine system before the agency began drafting a report to recommend sanctions. Google said Thursday, “we respectfully disagree with the CNIL’s assertion of global authority on this issue and we have asked the CNIL to withdraw its Formal Notice.”
If the CNIL attempts to move forward with this global version of right to be forgotten, its impact will stretch far beyond Google. Hopefully it won’t get that far.