• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 2:53am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 3:38am

EU court's ruling on web search will keep skeletons in the closet

I was a convicted paedophile, a rapist, a gangster and "bankster".

I did serious jail time for my crimes, but that was 20 years ago. I am much better now and a changed person.

I really don't deserve to have my past define my future and who I am now.

Yet, every time I google my name, my past records and news reports of my crimes and conviction keep coming up. That's so unfair.

Luckily, I am European.

Thanks to a new decision by the top European Union court, I can now ask search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to block such references in their searches. If they don't do it, I can sue them.

This seems to be the legal situation created by the European Court of Justice, which upheld Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez's case against Google for its searches that link him to a news report about his home being foreclosed and auctioned off 16 years ago.

Notice the linked contents on the web don't have to be libellous or untrue; they are actually true or at least factual.

They are merely deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant", in the words of the court, presumably as considered by the people adversely affected and angered by the web searches.

The court's definition is incredibly broad, and you can easily imagine people who really deserve to have their past bad or unflattering records kept and linked taking full advantage of the ruling, at least if they happen to be in Europe.

Yet the ruling is also incredibly narrow and therefore artificial. It does not affect those records, documents or reports being linked to by the search engines; you can still find them, though perhaps not through Google.

The judgment only impedes your ability to find them through web searches.

Yes, I don't like being defined by my internet searches any more than by people who have first impressions of me that I consider "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

But hey, that's life and it's not fair.

Luckily, the ruling only applies within the European Union.

Let's hope the courts and the laws in other parts of the world take a more sensible approach.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Of course it doesn't relate to past criminal convictions. This ruling has been profoundly misreported and misunderstood. The court didn't rule that citizens have the right to get their past taken off the internet. What it did rule, was that Google has a duty to balance a citizen's right to privacy with its business of providing relevant information to third parties.

A 16-year old newspaper reference about a forced auction of property due to indebtedness was deemed to be no longer relevant enough to prevail over the plaintiff's right to privacy.

Yet, the picture is really not as black-and-white as Mr Lo paints it. Citizens don't suddenly have the right to get Google to censor all kind of things about them. The court ruled that they should be able to submit a request to Google for certain search results to be omitted. Google can honour this request. Or not. If it doesn't, then a citizen could go to court, but the court will again weigh the balance between a right to privacy and the relevancy of the information.

A serious criminal conviction in the past would be much more relevant and the right to privacy would not easily outweigh it, and hence it is extremely unlikely that any court would order Google to omit references to serious crimes like the ones referenced to Mr Lo.

As usual, Mr Lo is just talking out of his (beep).
Not that Mr. Lo would actually jump the gun here (perish the thought)...but is there an actual learned legal opinion of the actual legal implications of this ruling within the EU?
The index case involved foreclosure, and not criminal activity. Does the ruling extend to criminal convictions like Mr. Lo's holy trifecta of "pedophile, rapist, and gangster"? If it does, then I would share his concern to some degree. If it doesn't, then I guess Mr. Lo did actually jump the gun.


SCMP.com Account