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Google spars with Spain over data privacy

The search giant and Spanish officials can't agree on when data should be deleted from Google's pages.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Google and Spain's data-protection authorities took to Europe's highest court, the European Court of Justice, to discuss whether the search giant has a responsibility to delete data that could infringe a person's privacy.

The issue at play relates to what is and what is not suitable for public consumption. Spain's regulators argued in the European court in Luxembourg today that Google must delete from its search results any information that would potentially hurt a person's privacy. Google, however, argues that it doesn't have a responsibility to wipe search results, and doing so could create a scenario where other cases are brought before it to remove data.

"There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available," Google's Head of Free Expression, EMEA, William Echikson, wrote today in a blog post. "People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online."

Google also acknowledged that when information is "found by a court to be incorrect, defamatory, or otherwise illegal," it can be removed from its search engine.

The case before the Court is, as Google points out, "representative of around 180 similar Spanish cases." Those cases relate to auction information Google posted online regarding houses that went into foreclosure. Despite requests by those subject to the legal action on their homes to take the information down to protect their privacy, Google declined.

In early 2011, Spain's data-regulation officials attempted to force Google to take the links down. Once again, the search giant declined to comply. Soon after, Google was slapped with a lawsuit that saw Spain's Audiencia Nacional, one of its top courts, rule in favor of a Spanish man who asked for his information removed from Google Search. Google appealed the ruling, sending it to the European court.

Now that the European court has heard arguments between Spain's officials and Google, it'll take some time to arrive at a final conclusion. According to Reuters, the court likely won't publish an opinion on the case until June 25. The judges will make their final ruling on the matter by the end of the year.