The recent European Court of Justice's decision to force Google to remove damaging personal information from search results may be instituted in North America eventually.
The European Union's highest court ruled on May 13 in favour of Mario Costeja González of Spain who had sought the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating back to 1998 that appeared on a newspaper's website. The online information could still be retrieved and impact Gonzalez's credit rating or reputation in general. The ruling now means Europeans have the “right to be forgotten” online whereby links to content deemed questionable or harmful will be removed from Google's search engine results.
The National Court will have to decide whether the public interest in having the information published outweighs that of the individual’s interest in the protection of personal data. In the meantime, Google will have to develop procedures and tools to deal with the flood of requests that are coming in to have sensitive or harmful data removed. Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines will have to make similar provisions to comply with the new law.
In North America, residents are now wondering when a similar decision will be made to protect their rights to privacy. You can see why individuals would want to remove links that portray them negatively, not only for financial reasons but for employment and personal reasons.
For example, if a newspaper covered your impaired driving charges and insurance company personnel could access the online information, you could argue that it would effect your premium costs even after it's removed from your driving record after three to six years. Insurers may choose to consider that information and use it well after that period expires. In some cases, even if you win a court decision, the information can still be retained online if it was covered by a news outlet. Examples of similar treatments abound not only for insurance consumers but for those with dealings in the financial and credit industry among all others. Frankly, anyone who appears in a Google search that has a legitimate gripe about an erroneous post could be affected at some point, as difficult as that may be to fathom.
Privacy regulators from the European Union's 28 countries are scheduled to meet in June to discuss how the new ruling will be enforced. As soon as that is sorted out, we may see how this may impact social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Equally as interesting would be how soon cases similar to that of Spain's González are introduced in North American courts.