The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has ruled today that individuals should have the right to remove outdated information about themselves returned in results delivered by search companies such as Google.

The so-called ‘right to be forgotten’, proposed by the European Union in 2012, means that an individual should be allowed to request that outdated or irrelevant information is removed from a company’s servers and therefore removed from being publicly accessible on the Web. It was a view with which the ECJ agreed:

The Court observes in this regard that even initially lawful processing of accurate data may, in the course of time, become incompatible with the directive where, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the data appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.

The Court adds that, when appraising such a request made by the data subject in order to oppose the processing carried out by the operator of a search engine, it should in particular be examined whether the data subject has a right that the information in question relating to him personally should, at this point in time, no longer be linked to his name by a list of results that is displayed following a search made on the basis of his name. If that is the case, the links to web pages containing that information must be removed from that list of results, unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public in having access to the information when such a search is made.

The case was brought about by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, whose name returned 16-year-old news articles results about his sale of properties when he got into financial difficulties, which he wanted removed. After going to a Spanish tribunal seeking to get the results removed, the ECJ was asked to step in and clarify exactly how European laws should be interpreted.

We’ve asked Google for its take on the decision and will update when we hear back.

Update: A Google spokesman got in touch with the following statement:

This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications.

➤ An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties [Court of Justice of the European Union - PDF]

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