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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

EU's “right to be forgotten” law applies only in EU

Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security European Union Of Interest to Non-US Persons

Courts

On September 24, the European Court of Justice held that Europe’s “right to be forgotten” online privacy law — which allows individuals to request the deletion of personal information from online sources that the individual believes infringes on their right to privacy—can be applied only in the European Union. The decision results from a challenge by a global search engine to a 2015 order by a French regulator, Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), requiring the search engine to delist certain links from all of its global domains, not just domains originating from the European Union. The search engine refused to comply with the order, and the CNIL imposed a 100,000 EUR penalty. The search engine sought annulment of the order and penalty, arguing that the “right to be forgotten” does not “necessarily require that the links at issue are to be removed, without geographical limitation, from all its search engine’s domain names.” Moreover, the search engine asserted that the CNIL “disregarded the principles of courtesy and non-interference recognised by public international law” and infringed on the freedoms of expression, information, and communication.

The Court of Justice agreed with the search engine. Specifically, the Court noted that while the “internet is a global network without borders” and internet users’ access outside of the EU to a referencing link to privacy infringing personal information is “likely to have immediate and substantial effects on that person within the Union itself,” there is no obligation under current EU law for a search engine to carry out the requested deletion on all global versions of its network. The Court explained that numerous nations do not recognize “the right to be forgotten” or take an alternate approach to the right. Additionally, the Court emphasized that “the right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, but must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.” The Court concluded that, while the EU struck that balance within its union, “it has not, to date, struck such a balance as regards the scope of a de-referencing outside of the union.”

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