Back in march, the French data protection authority CNIL had fined Google over $100,000 due to the company’s failure to comply with the EU directive concerning the right to be forgotten. Google announced today that it has filed an appeal with France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat. This move was first announced in an editorial written by Google’s general counsel Kent Walker, which was published by French newspaper Le Monde. The piece was republished in English on Google’s European public policy blog.
The dispute between Google and French regulators is due to an EU directive which grants EU citizens the right to be forgotten. Under that law, Europeans can request that search engines delist sites that contain information about them that is inaccurate, out of date, or violates their privacy. Google initially tried to appease European regulators by delisting sites upon request, but only for searches made using European domains like google.fr or google.de.
Regulators found this inadequate, citing the ease at which users can simply switch to another domain. Google expanded its right to be forgotten policy by delisting search results based on geographic location of the person making the search, regardless of which domain was used. These changes were still not sufficient to satisfy French regulators. CNIL insisted that the right to privacy was not based on geographic location, but should be upheld globally. As a result, the agency fined Google for failing to comply with the law.
Walker’s article argues against CNIL’s position that French law should apply globally. Walker begins by stating, “For hundreds of years, it has been an accepted rule of law that one country should not have the right to impose its rules on the citizens of other countries.” He states that Google is in compliance with EU law, and delists sites as requested. However, people outside the EU are still able to see the delisted sites. Walker rejects the idea that European law can be used to limit access to information in jurisdictions where it is legal.
Walker also warns that if French law is applied globally, other countries will demand the same. The article gives several examples of speech which is illegal in a specific country but perfectly legal in most of the world, such as insults against the king being illegal in Thailand. If the demands of French regulators are met, other countries might demand their own laws be enforced globally. Near the end of the post, Walker gives a strong warning:
This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France. This is not just a hypothetical concern. We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds — and we have resisted, even if that has sometimes led to the blocking of our services.
The post ends with the announcement that Google will appeal fine. Walker concludes by stating, “We look forward to the Court’s review of this case, which we hope will maintain the rights of citizens around the world to access legal information.”
Is Google right to fight this fine by French regulators? Leave your comments below.