Federal Court Upholds ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ in Google Case

In a landmark 2-1 ruling, the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada has determined that Google’s search engine is governed by federal privacy law, thereby allowing individuals to request the removal of their names from search results, commonly known as the “right to be forgotten.”

The court rejected Google’s claim that it should be exempt from privacy regulations under provisions for journalistic or artistic work, reports The Globe and Mail.

“Google Search does not collect, use, or disclose personal information for a journalistic purpose and, even if it does, it does not do so solely for that purpose,” wrote Justice John Laskin for the majority. The case originated from a 2017 complaint to the federal Privacy Commissioner by an unidentified man who argued that outdated and inaccurate information about him was causing significant personal harm, including physical assault and employment discrimination.

Google had argued that it serves as an intermediary between publishers and their audience, similar to libraries or convenience stores. Media organizations also intervened in the case, stating that Google plays a crucial role in disseminating news.

Justice Wyman Webb, who dissented, agreed with Google’s argument, stating, “Google’s purpose in collecting the information found in the newspaper articles is to index this information so that it can be easily found by an individual using the Google search engine.”

Lawyers for the complainant applauded the court’s decision. “I think it’s a vindication of privacy regulations,” said Mark Phillips, co-counsel with Michael Fenrick. Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, also expressed satisfaction, stating that the ruling “brings welcome clarification to this area of the law.”

The case is likely to proceed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling empowers the Privacy Commissioner to review the complaint and potentially recommend that Google delist the complainant’s name from its search engine.

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