Right To Be Forgotten: French Argue They Have Authority To Regulate Google Globally

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Setting up a potential international “conflict of laws” dispute, France’s privacy regulator (CNIL) rejected Google’s arguments against expanding the “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) to the company’s global index. Google had been limiting RTBF removals to European domains such as Google.fr.

Privacy regulators in Europe have argued that the ability to access the “removed” content from Google.com effectively undermines RTBF. The French have threatened sanctions if Google fails to remove RTBF links from all its domains globally.

While there is some legitimacy to the French and European arguments about RTBF circumvention — never mind that the links and content still exist on the source websites — France is effectively trying to impose European law on Google across the globe. From that point of view, the French action is not only legally unjustified, but it also creates a dangerous precedent that other countries may try to follow in an effort to globally censor content they don’t like.

Individual countries may try to use their own laws and, pointing at the European example, argue that Google must comply globally, “on all domains,” with their domestic rules. My perennial example is the Chinese government trying to reach out globally and censor content about the Tiananmen Square massacre. But Russia, India, Pakistan and other countries have laws that are effectively censorship of what they consider to be politically or culturally undesirable content. Empowering individual countries to regulate content globally is dangerous — for obvious reasons.

Google has rightly asserted that CNIL does not have the jurisdiction and authority to impose a global ban on disputed RTBF links. CNIL disagrees with this characterization and sees itself as simply trying to enforce the law in France and Europe. But while French and European objectives with RTBF are well-intentioned and seek to find a balance between the public’s right to know and individual privacy, that’s not going to be true in other cases, as indicated.

Google has recourse to more appeals. It’s possible that the case would wind up in front of the European Court of Justice Luxembourg, which gave birth to RTBF a year ago. If that court agreed with CNIL and its asserted authority to regulate Google.com, the matter would then presumably become one for international diplomacy.

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