In yet another difficult European regulatory decision for Google the Spanish data protection authority has demanded that Google remove links to articles online (e.g., newspaper articles) that contain defamatory content. According to the UK-based Guardian:
The technology giant has been ordered to remove almost 100 online articles from its search listings by Spain’s data protection authority . . . An injunction against search engines is the only way to block access to sensitive material published by these sites, the Spanish authority argues, as newspapers in the country can legally refuse to comply with more informal requests.
Google rightly complained that this move could chill speech and free expression.
It’s similar to another legal “setback” for Google in Italy last week. In that instance the Italian Communications Authority imposed rules and requirements governing traditional TV on YouTube, including an obligation to publish “corrections” to video content within 48 hours if requested by a self-proclaimed slander victim.
In the Spanish case it’s not clear from the Guardian article whether simply making a claim of defamation, as opposed to successfully proving a case in court, would be sufficient to trigger the obligation to remove the links. In other words, would a politician who’s reputation was implicated by a newspaper article reporting corruption or some other bad behavior be able to demand removal of the links to the offending article(s) simply because they were “defamatory” if true? If so that would set a terrible precedent in a democracy.
Ironically the data protection authority is “going after” Google because newspapers can apparently refuse to cooperate with regulators in the absence of formal court orders to do so.
Google is set to challenge the Spanish data protection authority’s order in a Madrid court this week.
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