This week Google lost a “right to be forgotten” decision in the High Court, as one of two claimants successfully had search results detailing his criminal history delisted.
The case involved two claimants, NT1 and NT2, the former convicted of “conspiracy to account falsely, with the purpose to evading tax”, having acted “unlawfully and dishonestly”, with the latter found guilty for conspiracy to intercept communications over a decade ago.
Both claimants sought a “blocking order and/or erasure by Google of their personal data”, as allowed under the Data Protection Act 1998 at sections 10, the right to object to processing data that is likely to cause damage or distress, and 14, the authority for a court to rectify, block, erase or destroy data held by a data controller.
NT1 and NT2 had requested that Google remove search results to publications detailing their convictions, including articles from national newspapers. Google refused and the claimants referred the matter to the High Court.
Mr Justice Warby considered the “journalism exception” at section 32 of the DPA, which would exempt the delisting of their data, but stated that Google did not have the necessary view to publication for journalistic purposes required.
The judge then applied the approach set out in the May 2014 Google Spain judgment, where the European Court of Justice held that any out-dated or irrelevant data can and should be deleted upon request.
In each of the claimants’ cases, the judge had to consider balancing the right to freedom of expression and of information with the right to privacy and protection of personal data. Applying these in each case, NT2’s claim was successful, whilst NT1’s failed.
It was noted that NT1 had continued to mislead the public, had and continued to show no remorse for his actions and had failed to accept guilt. The judge noted that “the information available via Google serves the purpose of minimising the risk that he will continue to mislead, as he has in the past. Delisting would not erase the information from the record altogether, but it would make it much harder to find.”
In comparison NT2’s conviction related to the privacy of a third party, not the pubic. Commenting on NT2 the judge stated, “there is not [a] plausible suggestion… that there is a risk that this wrongdoing will be repeated by the claimant. The information is of scant if any apparent relevance to any business activities that he seems likely to engage in.”
The decision reinforces the public policy of rehabilitation by removing information deemed to cause damage or distress, where the information is not longer relevant.
Whilst Google advocate Anthony White QC denounced the ability to tailor an individual’s past, the judgment allows for those no longer attached to the life which brought about their conviction the opportunity to for a clean(er) slate.