What Does This Google Ruling Mean for Freedom of Speech vs. Right to Privacy Online?

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16782093@N03/

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) won an important victory in the European Union, with EU high courts determining that government agencies can’t stop Internet search engines from publishing links to personal material.

Internet privacy rights seem to be on everyone’s minds right now. In addition to the recent National Security Agency scandal, Google has been on trial in the EU concerning the search engine’s right to publish links to personal information.

The European Court of Justice was asked to respond to a Spanish court’s case between Google and Spain’s data protection regulator. The court determined that search engines are not responsible for personal data that shows up in their searches. The trouble might not be completely over for Google, though, as the ruling could push the EU to reform its privacy laws so that such personal information would be protected from appearing in future searches.

The Spanish case involved five people who wanted links about personal information to be removed from Google searches. The defendants said the stories published about them were basically true, but shouldn’t be allowed to pop up during a Google search of their name. One case involved a doctor who said his practice continues to suffer because articles about a malpractice lawsuit filed against him more than twenty years ago still come up during Google searches of his name.

Some European lawmakers are pushing for “a right to be forgotten,” which would force search engines to stop publishing links about citizens’ personal information. If such a law were to be passed, it would undermine the court’s current ruling.

Google said it’s happy with the court ruling, saying it “supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress ‘legitimate and legal information’ would amount to censorship.” An international organization called the Index on Censorship, created to fight for freedom of expression, has also come out in support of the court’s decision.

Some view the ruling as a big step forward in protecting the right to free speech and freedom of the press, while others think it’s a further infringement on privacy. And as more and more of our personal information can be found online, the battle between a right to privacy and freedom of the press isn’t going away for internet companies like Google anytime soon.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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