By Joe Harker
Google has lost what is being described as a "landmark case" as Justice Mark Warby ruled that search results about a businessman with a criminal conviction for conspiracy to intercept communications could be removed.
The judge rejected a similar claim from another businessman who had committed the more serious offence of conspiracy to account falsely. The ruling could have a wider impact on other convicted criminals, setting a potential precedent for other cases where people want search results about their convictions removed.
In 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that "irrelevant and outdated" information should be erased if the person it was about made a request. Since that time people have requested to take down more than 2.4 million links, though more than half of requests were denied.
Antony White QC, representing Google, argued that the ruling of the ECJ did not allow people to rewrite history or tailor their past according to their preference. The information is still available on webpages, but if Google honours the request then their search engine cannot be used to find those pages.
Google warns that the right to be forgotten on the internet is a "serious assault" on freedom. Kent Walker, Senior Vice President of Google, argued that supporting a person's right to be forgotten could hide information that was in the public interest. A person's political views or criminal record could be harder to find and there may be situations where people needed to know such information.
The Open Rights Group campaigns for internet freedom said this case sets a "legal precedent". Jim Killock, Executive Director of the ORG, suggested that future rulings will have to consider a number of factors in requests and strike a balance between the public interest and the impact on an individual. He said: "The right to be forgotten is meant to apply to information that is no longer relevant but disproportionately impacts a person.
"The Court will have to balance the public's right to access the historical record, the precise impacts on the person, and the public interest."
Other cases in the future may look to Justice Mark Warby's ruling as guidance on whether to allow links about a person to be delisted or not. There may soon be a checklist of conditions that needs to be met before a request to be forgotten by Google is approved. For some the information available on a search engine can dictate many things and having information about criminal convictions from years ago readily available could be damaging.
It is a difficult balancing act between letting someone move on from their past without stopping the public from accessing information that may be in their interest to know.