The former head of Formula One's governing body is taking Google to court over photos of a role-play sex party that surfaced online five years ago. The case opened on Wednesday in Paris, where lawyers for Max Mosley urged a panel of judges to force Google to remove all images of Mosley's sex party from its search results. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mosley wants the search company to build software that would automatically block any pages containing the images —which he describes as a violation of his privacy — but Google has remained defiant, arguing that Mosley's demands would result in an "unprecedented new internet censorship tool."
The case comes amid ongoing European Union debates over how to protect individuals' rights to online privacy, including the proposed "right to be forgotten". Photos of Mosley's kinky escapades were first published in 2008 by News Corp's News of the World tabloid, which described the event as a "sick Nazi orgy". Mosley won a £60,000 ($94,000) award that year from a UK court, which determined that the now-defunct tabloid violated his privacy, noting that there was no evidence of any Nazi-themed activities. He won a smaller award in 2011, when a French court ruled in his favor in a similar case.
"an alarming new model of automated censorship"
Mosley, who stepped down as Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) president when his term ended in 2009, has admitted to participating in the escapade with five women, but vehemently denies that it was Nazi-themed. In Paris this week, his lawyers blamed Google for spreading misinformation about the event, and called upon the company to begin censoring its results accordingly.
"Google is perpetuating not only the spread of these illegal images but it is perpetuating the curiosity of Internet users," Mosley's lawyer, Clara Zerbib, told the French court yesterday. Mosley has filed a similar suit in Germany, where a Hamburg court will hear the case on September 20th.
Daphne Keller, Google's associate general counsel, defended the company's position in a blog post published Wednesday, describing Mosley's proposed filter as "an alarming new model of automated censorship."
"We offer well-established tools to help people to remove specific pages from our search results when those pages have clearly been determined to violate the law," Keller writes. "In fact, we have removed hundreds of pages for Mr. Mosley, and stand ready to remove others he identifies. But the law does not support Mr. Mosley's demand for the construction of an unprecedented new Internet censorship tool."
"The balance between privacy and free expression is necessarily case by case."
Keller added that it is unfair for Mosley to focus his attack on Google alone, noting that traffic to some pages hosting the photos comes from other sources. The company expanded upon its defense in Wednesday's three-hour hearing, with Google's lawyers warning that a hasty decision could have far-reaching impacts.
"You can't decide now that the context for these links will forever be illicit," Google lawyer Christophe Bigot told judges Wednesday. "The balance between privacy and free expression is necessarily case by case."
The Paris court says it will hand down a decision on October 21st.