The Race to the Bottom

French national data protection authority, the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), has rejected Google’s appeal against the global enforcement of “right to be forgotten” removals.  

Under the Court of Justice’s ruling of last year, governmental bodies within the European Union are presumed to have legal authority over how search engine providers control content online, which in theory means Google will be forced to honour individual requests for the removal of certain links from its results, based on searches using a person’s name.

In May, the CNIL ordered Google to delist links from the company’s global domain in addition to its European domains. In July, Google made an informal appeal against the order to the president of CNIL, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, voicing its concerns via blog post:

This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web.

While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally. Moreover, there are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others: Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be “gay propaganda.”

If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place. 

Falque-Pierrotin this week officially rejected the appeal, in a statement addressing concerns that the order will trigger, in the words of Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer, “a race to the bottom:”

Contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially. It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non European players offering their services in Europe.

Google must now delist tens of thousands of links from its global search engines, or face fines of around €300,000. France, enjoy using Bing. Hope it was worth it.

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