Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
Google Spain SL v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos
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Spanish national Don Alfonso sought damages and injunctive relief from Google Spain SL, the local subsidiary of Google Internet search engine company. He claimed that the search of his name erroneously provided links to his pardoned crime in 1981 and that Google Spain should be held accountable for the failure to remove the search result that had damaged his reputation and caused him economic hardship.
Following the 2014 ruling of the European Court of Justice in Google Spain v. Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) on the right to be forgotten, the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Spain sustained Alfonso’s claim against Google Spain. It further rejected Google Spain’s defense that only its parent company was responsible for the management of data. As to whether Alfonso was entitled to enjoy the right to be forgotten, the Court held that due to the reasonable passage of time since his conviction and given that he was not a public figure, his right to privacy and honor outweighed the public’s right to information.
The present appeal arose out of a lawsuit by Spanish national Don Alfonso, alleging that the Google search result of his name erroneously provided links to his 1981 crime, for which he was pardoned. Alfonso claimed that the inaction to remove such information went against his right to privacy and negatively affected his reputation, causing him personal and economic distress. He further argued that under the 2014 decision of the European Court of Justice in Google Spain v. Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD), Google Spain SL was required to remove the information.
Google Spain, on the other hand, argued that the case could not be brought against it because its parent company Google Inc. is the “controller” of data within the meaning of the E.U. Directive 95/46 and the decision of the European Court of Justice.
The Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court denied Google Spain’s claim, holding that not only could Google Inc. be sued, but that its subsidiary could be found liable as well. According to the Court, the aim of the Data Protection Directive 45/96 is to guarantee the effective and complete protection of the entire array of fundamental rights, and that the decision of the European Court of Justice complemented this by providing a broad description of who is responsible for the management of data so that the effective and complete protection of basic rights can be guaranteed.
The justices also explained that this effective and complete protection would not be possible if affected individuals like Alfonso are forced to litigate against the parent company in the U.S., considering the costs and delays involved.
With respect to an earlier ruling by the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court in Google Spain, S.L. v. Abogado del Estado, which upheld the Google Spain’s same argument, the justices reasoned that because the Administrative Chamber operates under different criteria and applicable norms, its ruling did not preclude them from holding Google Spain accountable.
As to the merits of the case, the justices found that while the display of data regarding a pardoned criminal conviction can be a matter of public interest, with the passage of reasonable time, the negative impact on the individual’s right to privacy and honor outweighs the public’s right to information, particularly when the affected individual is not a public figure and the displayed information lacks historical interest.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case has mixed outcomes on freedom of expression because while the court’s decision in some ways puts restrictions on the public’s right to information, it does so because Alfonso is entitled to enjoy the right to be forgotten. Due to the reasonable passage of time since his conviction and given that he was not a public figure, his right to privacy and honor outweighed the public’s right to information.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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