A businessman has won the first ever “right to be forgotten” lawsuit against Google in London’s High Court – but a second man’s attempt to have embarrassing search results about him deleted has failed.
The two men were referred to as NT1 and NT2 during the trial. Both had sued Google under data protection laws demanding that search results including references to past criminal convictions be erased.
NT1 was found guilty of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s and was jailed, following his involvement with an occasionally controversial property business that dealt with members of the public. He demanded the deletion of three search results that mentioned his conviction.
Similarly, NT2 was involved in “a controversial business that was the subject of public opposition over its environmental practices” in the early part of 2000 – and the public opposition attracted significant media coverage. He was also sentenced to prison, spending six weeks in custody.
Both men made their claims under British and EU data protection laws. Their grounds for demanding the deletion of the search results were that some of the results were allegedly inaccurate, while all of them were in breach of the so-called Right To Be Forgotten, established after an EU court ruling in 2014 that a Spanish man was entitled to have search results about his criminal past deleted.
Dismissing NT1’s application to have the search results deleted, Mr Justice Warby ruled:
The crime and punishment information is not information of a private nature. It was information about business crime, its prosecution, and its punishment. It was and is essentially public in its character. NT1 did not enjoy any reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information at the time of his prosecution, conviction and sentence. My conclusion is that he is not entitled to have it delisted now.
The judge also said that NT1 had “misled” the court during proceedings.
However, for NT2, who won his effort to have the search results about him deleted. The Judge ruled that one of the results, a national newspaper story, was “out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google Search to justify its continued availability, so that an appropriate delisting order should be made… NT2 has frankly acknowledged his guilt, and expressed genuine remorse. There is no evidence of any risk of repetition. His current business activities are in a field quite different from that in which he was operating at the time.”
Google argued that both cases were effectively libel claims brought through the back door of data protection law and were therefore an abuse of process, which the Judge dismissed. The Judge also threw out Google’s efforts to rely on the journalism exemption in section 32 of the Data Protection Act, in which Google tried claiming that the provision of search results is a journalistic endeavour.
Mr Justice Warby also observed that neither NT1 nor NT2 were “… asking to ‘be forgotten’. The first aspect of their claims asserts a right not to be remembered inaccurately.”
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