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'Right to be forgotten' by Google should apply only in EU, says court adviser

Search results about citizens of the European Union could still appear online outside Europe, says an adviser to the EU's Court of Justice.

Google logo is seen on an android mobile phone
Omar Marques/Getty Images

Google shouldn't have to remove links about European citizens from search results across the whole of the internet, just in the European Union. That's the recommendation of a top legal advisor to the EU's Court of Justice.

EU Advocate General Maciej Szpunar released an opinion Thursday saying searches made outside the EU shouldn't be affected by the so-called right to be forgotten.

Under EU law, European citizens can appeal to have certain information about them that's incorrect, embarrassing or out of date removed from search results. Since 2014, Google has delisted 44 percent of the requested URLs following review, according to its transparency report.

The ECJ is currently examining whether Google must remove results only in countries where the request was made, or beyond national borders. The referral to the EU's top court came from France's privacy regulator.

"Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other organisations that have made their views known in this case," said Peter Fleischer, senior privacy counsel at Google, in an email statement. "We've worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99% effectiveness."

In his opinion, Szpunar said he's "not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation that they would have effects beyond the borders of the 28 Member States." He also adds that the right to be forgotten "must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought."

A final decision is expected in the coming months. The ECJ doesn't have to follow the advocate general's recommendation, but often does, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The decision by the judges on how to interpret EU law will affect not only Google, but also other search engines, including Bing and Yahoo.

First published on Jan. 10, 11:11 a.m. PT.

Updates, 1:54 p.m. PT: Adds Google spokesperson statement. 

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