Top Stories
Top Stories
Tech

Google gets a victory over privacy rights in the EU's top court

Key Points
  • Google does not need to guarantee the "right to be forgotten" to users outside of the European Union, an advocate general in Europe's top court wrote in an opinion on Thursday.
  • The written opinion, if followed by a similar ruling in court later this year,  would mark a big victory for Google and many free speech advocates worried about online censorship.
  • Google has been in a legal battle with France's data regulator over whether Europe's strict privacy laws apply globally.
Google search on iphone
Artur Debat | Getty Images

Google doesn't need to guarantee the "right to be forgotten" to users outside of the European Union, an advisor to the EU's top court said Thursday.

The written opinion by an advocate general in the European Court of Justice is an important step in the question of how much tech companies like Google must apply Europe's strict privacy laws to operations in other parts of the world.

The "right to be forgotten" is a part of an EU law established in 2014 that requires search engines to delete personal information about users if it's deemed irrelevant or excessive.

For example, an individual can ask Google to remove links including personal contact information. The decision to remove a link is weighed against factors such as the individual's role in public life. Since 2014, Google has received nearly 3 million requests to "delist" web addresses from users across Europe.

In a written opinion on Thursday, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said he is "not in favor of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation that they would have effects beyond the borders of the 28 Member States."

"The opinion contains a clear recommendation that the right to remove search results from Google should not have global effect," said Richard Cumbley, the partner and global head of technology at London-based law firm Linklaters, in an email to CNBC.

"There are a number of good reasons for this, including the risk other states would also try and suppress search results on a global basis."

Google has been locked in a legal battle with France's data regulator called CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertes) over whether Europe's tough data standards should apply globally to the search giant. The case was brought to Europe's highest court after CNIL fined Google 100,000 euros ($115,000) in 2016 for not removing search links from all of the versions of its site.

The advocate general's opinion, if followed by a similar ruling in the court, would mark a big victory for Google — and many free speech advocates who have argued global enforcement of the "right to be forgotten" could encourage censorship in some countries.

U.K.-based free speech organization Article 19 heralded the advocate general's opinion in a statement Thursday saying: "The Court must limit the scope of the 'right to be forgotten' in order to protect global freedom of expression and prevent Europe from setting a precedent for censorship that could be exploited by other countries."

The European Court of Justice is expected to rule on the case later this year. Linklaters' Cumbley said that while the court is not required to follow the advocate general's opinion, "it seems very likely they will in this case."

CNIL told CNBC it was not commenting on the opinion at this time. Google was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

VIDEO3:3203:32
Is Google a monopoly?