Google's top lawyer says EU's 'right to be forgotten' restricts freedom of expression

David Drummond says results are removed after 'vague and subjective tests'

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(Google)

Google's chief legal officer has explained why the company disagrees with the EU's recent ruling that people have the "right to be forgotten" by its search engine. Writing in The Guardian, David Drummond explains the search giant's problems with the judgement, saying that it contradicts the information on freedom of expression in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that the language used by the court means the removal of results comes after "very vague and subjective tests" as to whether the information is of public interest.

Google suggests the EU's ruling contradicts the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Drummond says Google has received more than 70,000 takedown requests since May, covering 250,000 webpages, and provides examples of the kind of requests that he says "highlight the difficult value judgements search engines and European society" have to deal with after the ruling. "Former politicians wanting posts removed that criticise their policies in office; serious, violent criminals asking for articles about their crimes to be deleted; bad reviews for professionals like architects and teachers; comments that people have written themselves (and now regret)."

Drummond says Google has to consider whether the information it's requested to remove is in the public interest. It does this by considering whether the information relates to a public figure, whether it comes from a reputable source, how recently it was published, whether it contains information about professional conduct relevant to consumers, or whether it mentions unspent criminal convictions. Google says it's doing its best to comply "quickly and responsibly" with the EU's ruling, but Drummond says such judgements "will always be difficult and debatable."

Google has already reinstated results it had removed

Google started removing search results under the new ruling late last month. It's not been an entirely smooth process: last week, the search engine was found to have quietly reinstated links that it had removed, a mistake that Drummond blames on the short time the company has had to adapt to the EU judgement. Google has put together an advisory council of independent experts that it says will examine the issues and release a public report with recommendations for dealing with removals. Drummond says Google wants to be transparent when it omits certain results, but can't be specific with the reasoning, for fear of violating the individual's privacy.

In Drummond's language, Google is "committed to complying with the court's decision," but it's clear the company sees a double standard in the EU's new ruling. Drummond describes the process of omitting search results, but allowing the actual websites they point to to remain as being "like saying the book can stay in the library but cannot be included in the library's card catalogue."

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