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Google loses landmark 'right to be forgotten' case

The Guardian logo The Guardian 13/04/2018 Jamie Grierson and Ben Quinn
The judge rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a far more serious offence, and ‘continues to mislead the public. © Reuters The judge rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a far more serious offence, and ‘continues to mislead the public.

A businessman has won his legal action to remove search results about a criminal conviction in a landmark “right to be forgotten” case that could have wide-ranging repercussions.

The ruling was made by a judge, Mr Justice Mark Warby, in London on Friday. He rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence.

The claimant who lost, referred to only as NT1 for legal reasons, was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s, while the one that won, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications. NT1 was jailed for four years while NT2 was jailed for six months.

Both demanded that Google remove results that mention their cases for which they were convicted. These include links to web pages published by a national newspaper and media. Google refused their request and the men took the company to the high court.

The decision in NT2’s favour could have implications for other convicted criminals and those who want embarrassing stories about them erased from the web. The judge ruled out any damages payment, however.

Explaining his decision, the judge said NT1 continued to mislead the public, whereas NT2 had shown remorse.

In 2014 the European court of justice (ECJ) ruled that “irrelevant” and outdated data should be erased on request. Since then, Google has received requests to remove at least 2.4m links from search results. Search engine firms can reject applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.

At a high court hearing in February, Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing NT1, told the high court that the visibility of the articles on the search engine caused “distress and upset” to his client.

Tomlinson, who is also chairman of the press regulation campaign group Hacked Off, told the court the businessman was not a public figure and now made a living on commercial lending and funding a property developer.

“Before anyone meets a new person these days they Google them,” Tomlinson said.

He added that many people engaged in misdeeds when they were young and if the misdeeds were constantly brought to the attention of others then they would permanently have a negative effect.

NT1’s conviction was now spent, Tomlinson continued, and the law was designed to allow for the rehabiliation of offenders so they could go on to lead normal lives.

But Antony White QC, representing Google, argued the ECJ’s “right to be forgotten” ruling was “not a right to rewrite history or ... tailor your past if that’s what this claimant would like to use it for”.

White said the business malpractice that gave rise to NT1’s conviction was “serious and sustained”.

NT2, in a separate hearing, also argued his conviction was legally spent and that he therefore has a right to be forgotten. Google resisted taking down search results linking to articles including reports on his financial affairs, his conviction and interviews given by him several years later containing his account of the circumstances surrounding his conviction.

NOW SEE: Want to freak yourself out? This is all the data Google has on you

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