Is there now to be more privacy for individuals on the web?

There has been much deliberation concerning date protection after the recent European Union Court of Justice decision, which ruled that in certain conditions EU citizens may require that links to web sites of third parties which contain personal data relating to the individuals may be removed from search engine results.

The decision handed down in Case number C-131/12 which was brought by the Spanish Data Protection authority and a Spanish individual against Google Spain and Google Inc, means that now search engine providers in Europe may be liable for breaches of EU data protection law comprised in Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24th October 1995 on the Protection of Individuals with regard to processing personal Data(EU Directive). This liability will arise if they display links to third party websites where the relevant individual has requested that the link be removed. Individuals can now require the removal of links to third party web sites provided that they can establish under Article 12(b) of the EU Directive that the search engine operators processing is not in compliance with the EU Directive and/or there are otherwise compelling legitimate grounds to object to the processing of their data under Article 14(a) ofthe EU Directive. All commentators note that this ruling does not affect the original publication on the third party web site neither is the individual required to show that they have suffered harm as a result of the search.

Whilst this will have in my view an impact outside of Romania I wonder how many Romanian individuals will take advantage of this decision and make requests to the relevant search engine providers. It will be interesting to see how many approach their lawyers in Romania to make such applications to the Romanian Data Protection Agency.  Romanians who love publicity may think that there is no need to request the removal of the link although researchers may see it as a curtailment of their ability to research the background of their subjects.  Romania may react differently from other EU nations.

There are currently a number of penal cases before the Romania courts of the actions of certain individuals during the time of communism. These are cases of prison guards and officers, even in the prior Ceausescu days, who mistreated prisoners. If the information as to their conduct had not been publicly available on the web sites would the prosecutors have been able to bring the cases. It has taken over 20 years already to start these proceedings so one does wonder.

Some Romanian politicians are very protective of their position prior to 1989, and as more information becomes available on third party web sites will they consider making applications to the data protection authority.  Whilst Romania has one of the largest users of the internet, will they think to curtail the rights of third parties to carry out research? I am sure some Romanian lawyers will receive requests to clarify the position.

It is clear that the Court decision will have an impact on the industry and the search engine providers.  How the Europeans Union will deal with this in the future we will have to wait and see.  The current draft General Data Protection regulation which is being discussed does contain a right to forget but until the final agreed draft is published we will not know if it still there.  One hopes that the decision and its impact will be taken into account when the final draft is complete and will remove some of the vagueness which the decision of the Court by reason of its nature has engendered.