The Court of Justice of the European Union delivered its judgment in the Google Spain case on 13 May. In this case, the Court found that when a search engine operator searches for and presents personal information, such an operator 'collects' data within the meaning of the 1995 Data Protection Directive. For the purposes of the Directive, the operator is therefore a data 'controller' and the data subject rights set out in the Directive, including the right to erasure of the personal data, may be invoked by data subjects. The full implications of the Court's ruling for the practical application of data protection law are still being assessed.
In this particular case, the Court found that the data subject, a private individual, had the right to erasure of links to personal information referring to his financial difficulties 16 years earlier because the information had become irrelevant and out of date. The Court noted that there did not appear to be any overriding public interest in this case in having continued access to links to the personal information concerned. Where, however, the removal of such links could, depending on the nature of the information concerned, have an impact on the legitimate interest of internet users interested in having access to the information, the Count held that a fair balance should be sought between that right and the data subject's rights. In the specific context of freedom of expression, the Court made reference to the existing derogations for journalistic, artistic and literary purposes under article 9 of the 1995 Data Protection Directive.