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UK man jailed for conspiracy wins ‘right to be forgotten’ by Google, which must now remove him from its search terms

The unidentified businessman was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications and was jailed for six months - and now he will disappear from the search site

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2018, 3:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2018, 4:36am

A UK businessman has won his legal action to remove search results about his criminal conviction in a landmark “right to be forgotten” case that could have wide-ranging repercussions for Google and other search providers.

The ruling was made by a judge, Mr Justice Mark Warby, in London on Friday. He rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence.

The claimant who lost, referred to only as NT1 for legal reasons, was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s; the claimant who won, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications. NT1 was jailed for four years, while NT2 was jailed for six months.

Granting an appeal in the case of NT1, the judge added: “It is quite likely that there will be more claims of this kind, and the fact that NT2 has succeeded is likely to reinforce that.”

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Both men demanded that Google remove search results mentioning the cases for which they were convicted. These include links to webpages published by a national newspaper and other media. 

Google refused their request and the men took the company to the high court.

The decision in NT2’s favour could have implications for other convicted criminals and those who want embarrassing stories about them erased from the web. The judge ruled out any damages payment, however.

Explaining his decision, the judge said NT1 continued to mislead the public, whereas NT2 had shown remorse. 

He also took into account the submission that NT2’s conviction did not concern actions taken by him in relation to “consumers, customers or investors”, but rather in relation to the invasion of privacy of third parties.

He said his key conclusion in relation to NT2’s claim was that “the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability”.

In the case of NT1, however, the judge was scathing in terms of the claimant’s position since leaving prison. “He has not accepted his guilt, has misled the public and this court, and shows no remorse over any of these matters,” he said.

“He remains in business, and the information serves the purpose of minimising the risk that he will continue to mislead, as he has in the past. Delisting would not erase the information from the record altogether, but it would make it much harder to find.”

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In 2014 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that “irrelevant” and outdated data should be erased on request. 

Since then, Google has received requests to remove at least 2.4 million links from search results. 

Search engine firms can reject applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.