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Google : Defends Right to Be Forgotten Response

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11/19/2014 | 11:42am EST
By Sam Schechner 

BRUSSELS--A top Google Inc. executive Wednesday defended the search company's application of Europe's nascent "right to be forgotten," just days before European Union regulators plan to release their own guidelines on how--and where--to apply the May court ruling that established the new right.

The ruling requires search engines, notably Google, to allow individuals to request the removal of some results from Web searches for their names.

Speaking at a privacy conference in Brussels, Google's Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer defended the company's decision to apply the decision from the European Court of Justice only to the European versions of its websites, such as google.be or google.fr, but not to its global site, google.com even when that site is accessed within Europe.

"Other courts in other parts of the world would never have reached the result that the European Court of Justice reached," Mr. Fleischer said.

"Countries have different rules, different laws, and that is the way to respect them," he said.

Mr. Fleisher's defense comes as EU privacy regulators are coming close to issuing new guidelines that are expected to tackle the controversial question of the "territoriality" of the court decision. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, chairman of the pan-European body that groups together national privacy regulators, said on Wednesday that those guidelines would be decided at meetings next week.

After months of debate, EU data-protection regulators are also likely to tackle other hot-button issues, such as whether Google and other search engines should be allowed to notify websites when it agrees to remove one of their pages from the results for an individual's name. Those notifications, which have allowed publications including The Wall Street Journal to unmask some people claiming the right to be forgotten, have come in for criticism from regulators.

"What we want is a harmonized application within Europe," Ms. Falque-Pierrotin said on Wednesday at the same conference. "We want the data subjects wherever they are, to benefit from the same protection.

Also speaking on the same panel as Mr. Fleischer was Joaquín Muñoz Rodríguez, a lawyer for Mario Costeja González, who complained after Google results displayed links to a 1998 newspaper advertisement that mentioned a long-resolved debt. Mr. Muñoz said he was pleased with the result of the court decision, even though it has had the effect of turning his client into a public figure--who would be exempt from the right to be forgotten under the ruling.

"The paradox is that Mr. Costeja is better known than before," Mr. Muñoz said.

Mr. Fleischer, for his part, gave his legal adversary his due.

"Dude, from lawyer to lawyer, you won."

Write to Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

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