_Right to be forgotten in Italy, Europe and beyond!

Right to be forgotten in Italy, Europe and beyond!

by Paola Gobbi and Marco Tesoro


The Italian Data Protection Authority (IDPA) issued an audacious decision that will have a huge impact in terms of territorial extension of the right to be forgotten.
In the recently published decision no. 557 of 21st December 2017, the IDPA ordered Google to remove, at global level, the URL referring to websites containing fake and offensive articles about the plaintiff.

The case originated from a claim lodged by an Italian citizen, a University professor living in the United States who reported the existence of several URLs referring to websites and forums containing insulting articles, offensive to his reputation and dignity, as well as fake information on his state of his health, asking Google to delete them.
Google rejected the request, claiming that the applicant was, in his capacity as a University professor, a public figure, and also because such articles referred to recent events that took place in 2017.

The professor then lodged a claim before the IDPA saying that he had never held public appointments, highlighting the serious damage caused because of such false and offensive articles and that he had been blackmailed to delete them.

Therefore, the professor asked the IDPA to order Google to remove no. 26 URL, specifically detailed within the claim, from the list of European and non-European Google results that appear if you type in the plaintiff’s name and surname.

The Company based in Mountain View rejected the plaintiff’s demand, which it considered as a “global cancellation” request and as such inadmissible according to Google, considering:

  • Case law of the European Court of Justice (“Google Spain v AEPD and Mario Costeja González”) that balances the right to privacy and data protection with the legitimate interest of the public to access such information based on the applicable national laws where the claim is filed, or at best, on European law.
  • The question of “global cancellation” is currently under examination by the European Court of Justice, upon request of the French State Council dated 21st August 2017, thus rendering it necessary to suspend the trial.

The IDPA rejected the arguments put forward by Google, holding that the balance of the interests at stake in this case incline towards a higher protection of the applicant, also given the existence of news on his state of health – per Guidelines issued by WP29 on the application on the abovementioned Court Ruling in Costeja – as having a stronger impact on the applicant’s private life compared with the impact of ordinary personal data.
Furthermore, the IDPA commented that “in the presence of information that is part of a personal campaign against one specific person, as a rant or negative personal comments” the cancellation should be considered more favourably in the case of “data that seem to be of an objective nature but are actually are incorrect” especially “when this creates a wrong, inadequate and incorrect impression of the interested party”.

The decision of the IDPA not to suspend the case despite the decision pending before the European Court of Justice is very important indeed, also from another perspective: the IDPA commented that the applicant is an Italian citizen living abroad, therefore in this case the cancellation of the URL only on the European version of Google would not stop the damage caused to the plaintiff, and therefore ordered Google to delete all the URLs listed by the plaintiff, both on the European and non-European versions of the famous web search engine.

This decision is of great significance and goes above and beyond the specific case in question, when we consider the expansion to global level of the right to be forgotten. Moreover, it is a particularly courageous decision, in light of the case pending before the European Court of Justice, for which we eagerly await the outcome.