Right to erasure ("right to be forgotten"): internet search engines

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This is the right to request, under certain conditions, that links to your personal data do not appear whithin the results of an internet search engine.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a judgment on 13 May 2014 which states, as the AEPD had already applied in its decisions, that the processing of data carried out by search engines is subject to the data protection rules of the European Union and that individuals have the right, under certain conditions, to request that links to their personal data be not included in the results of an internet search carried out by their name.

Five key points

Here are five key points to exercise the right to erasure (“right to be forgotten”) in Internet search engines.

1. What is the right to erasure (“right to be forgotten”)?

It is the manifestation of the right of suppression applied to internet search engines. The right to erasure (‘right to be forgotten’) refers to the right to prevent the dissemination of personal information over the internet when its publication does not meet the requirements of adequacy and relevance laid down in the regulations. In particular, it includes the right to limit the universal and indiscriminate dissemination of personal data in general search engines when the information is obsolete or no longer of relevance or public interest, even if the original publication is legitimate (in the case of official newsletters or information protected by freedom of expression or information).

2. Can I exercise it straight to the search engine without going first to the original source?

YES. Search engines and original publishers perform two differentiated data processings, with different legitimate basis and also with a different impact on people’s privacy. That is why it can happen, and in fact it often happens, that it is not appropriate to grant the right in front of the publisher and yes in front of the search engine, since the universal dissemination made by the search engine, added to the additional information it provides about the same individual when looking by name, can have a disproportionate impact on their privacy. 

3. If I exercise it in front of a search engine, will the information disappear from the internet?

No. The judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU of 13 May 2014 states that it only affects the results obtained in searches made using the name of the person and does not imply that the page should be deleted from the search engine indices or from the original source. The link shown in the search engine will only cease to be visible when the search is carried out through the name of the person who exercised his right. Fonts remain unchanged and the result will continue to be displayed when the search is performed by any other word or term other than the affected name. 

4. How can I exercise it?

The data protection regulations establish that in order to exercise the right of erasure (and, therefore, the ‘right to be forgotten’) it is essential that the citizen goes first to the entity that is processing their data, in this case to the search engine. Majority search engines have enabled their own forms (Google, Bing or Yahoo) to receive requests to exercise this right in this area. If the entity does not respond to the request made or the citizen considers that the response it receives is not adequate, it can file a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Authority (i.e., AEPD). Depending on the circumstances of each individual case, the AEPD shall determine whether or not it considers it. This decision of the AEPD, in turn, is open to appeal before the Courts. 

5. Is the right to receive information limited?

No. In the case of search engines, the judgment states that it is necessary to carry out a weighting on a case-by-case basis in order to achieve a balance between the different rights and interests. Given that it is essential to assess the circumstances of each request and that the interest of users in accessing information should be systematically taken into account,

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