Google wins “right to be forgotten” case in Japanese high court

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According to the Wall Street Journal, Japan’s high court has ruled against a man seeking to have search results about him “forgotten.” While the court apparently didn’t take up the issue of an EU-style “Right to Be Forgotten,” it elevated the speech status of search results and declined to establish such a blanket right in the country.

The court said that any requests for content removal from search results needed to be assessed individually and that the public interest in the information had to be weighed against the potential harm to the individual. In the case at issue, a man convicted of child-pornography charges sued to have that information about him removed from the index in Japan.

The Japanese Supreme Court said that the crime was serious and “continues . . . to be a matter of public interest.” In the European case establishing the Right to Be Forgotten a Spanish citizen wanted information on past real estate debts removed from Google’s Spanish index. The content in dispute were then 16 years old.

The Japanese Court ruled that search results are a form of speech — as in the US — and censoring or restricting them could violate free speech rights. As indicated, the court said that there were circumstances in which the rights of individuals would outweigh the broader protection of speech when the matter at issue was not in the public interest and the impact on the individual’s reputation was significant.

Effectively the court has established a “balancing test” that will require each plaintiff to sue for the removal of unflattering content. While Google hailed the decision, it would potentially be in their interest to contemplate an administrative mechanism to enable individuals to request removals rather than having that play out in the courts.

Then again, a litigation-based process will likely see far fewer requests than an online content removal request form, as in Europe.

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