Google Appeals French Fine on Right to Be Forgotten

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By Rick Mitchell

May 19 — Google Inc. is appealing an over $100,000 fine levied by the French data protection authority (CNIL) over the company's implementation of the right to be forgotten.

In a May 19 blog post, Google Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker said the appeal, filed in the Conseil d'État, the country's highest administrative court, contests the 100,000 euro ($112,100) fine that CNIL imposed against the company for failing to comply with users' requests to have links to personal information about them removed from Google's global search results (15 PVLR 674, 3/28/16).

CNIL's order raises a substantive question about whether it makes sense, or is legally appropriate, for a country “to ban a service that allows the public to find truthful and publicly-available information” for no other reason than the subject of that information wants it “forgotten,” Frederick T. Davis, of counsel for Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in Paris, told Bloomberg BNA May 19.

CNIL declined May 19 to comment on Google's appeal.

Pages Delisted

Announcing the fine in March, CNIL cited the European Court of Justice's May 2014 finding that EU citizens have a right to get such links removed, but the Paris-based authority added the stipulation that the requests apply to all Google's data processing and, consequently, search engine domains (13 PVLR 857, 5/19/14). It rejected Google's arguments that the global requirement hinders freedom of expression, and declined the company's proposed compromise to use geoblocking technology to make it harder for EU users to find delisted information (15 PVLR 528, 3/14/16).

Walker said Google complies with laws of countries in which it operates, but disagreed with CNIL's efforts to apply its interpretation of French law to every version of Google Search globally. He said this could lead to “a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in ones own country.”

Practitioners have said the appeal could take one to two years to run its course.

Under the ECJ's 2014 decision, EU data subjects have the right to compel Google and other Internet search engines to delist results linking to websites containing personal information about them if their fundamental right to individual privacy outweighs the public's right to know. Walker said Google complies with the ruling in every EU country, and has reviewed nearly 1.5 million webpages, delisting around 40 percent EU wide, including over 300,000 in France, or around 50 percent of requests.

But in July 2015, CNIL ordered Google to extend the right to be delisted to all its search engine websites worldwide, including .com based in the U.S., not just EU domain names , such as .fr, .de or .uk (14 PVLR 1441, 8/3/15).

The Article 29 Working Party of the 28 EU data protection authorities, headed by CNIL President Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, has also stated that search engines that receive valid requests for delisting based on the ECJ ruling must apply them worldwide.

The other important question that worldwide delisting presents is the extraterritorial effect of national laws, Davis said. “This is an important issue, with no easy resolution.”

With assistance from George R. Lynch in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jimmy H. Koo at