In a May 13, 2014, ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ)—the European Union’s highest court—acknowledged that under current EU data protection law, EU citizens have the right to request that internet search engines, such as Google, remove search results directly related to them.
This landmark ruling on the “right to be forgotten” ensures that citizens—not algorithms—are in control of the online information available when their name is entered in a search engine. This right is not absolute, but is balanced against other fundamental rights including the freedom of expression and of the media.
According to the Court, the “right to be forgotten” applies where the online information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive for the purposes of data processing. Search engine companies must consider and balance citizen requests on a case-by-case basis, with citizens able to appeal any negative decisions through relevant governmental authorities.