Google girds for England battle over ‘right to be forgotten’
The plaintiffs are being represented by Carter Ruck, one of the first law firms to use super-injunctions
London/Luxembourg — Google is bracing itself for its first battle in England’s High Court over the so-called "right to be forgotten".
Two anonymous people want the search engine to take down links to information about their old convictions.
Both describe themselves in their court filings as businessmen. One was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely, and the other was convicted of conspiracy to intercept communications, but those convictions were spent, judge Matthew Nicklin told a pre-trial hearing on Thursday.
"This is the first time that the English court is going to decide the issue of the right to be forgotten," Judge Nicklin said.
The tech giant has already become embroiled in battles at the European Union’s top court over the right to be forgotten.
That right — created by the European Union’s highest court in a precedent-setting ruling in May 2014 — allows people to ask for links to online information about them to be removed from search engine results if the information is outdated or irrelevant.
The ruling is valid only in the 28-nation bloc, but Google has clashed with European privacy regulators over their attempts to apply it beyond EU domains.
"We work hard to comply with the right to be forgotten, but we take great care not to remove search results that are clearly in the public interest and will defend the public’s right to access lawful information," a Google spokeswoman said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately comment.
Judge Nicklin said on Thursday that the two cases were not related but both raised the same legal issues.
The first trial, in which the person challenging Google to remove information is known as NT1, would start on February 27 and the second, in which the plaintiff is known as NT2, would start on March 13, he said.
He said the plaintiffs were "not celebrities".
NT1 has been threatened in public places by people referring to the content that Google links to, "and seeking to extract money from him in consequence", his court filings say.
He "has been and continues to be treated as a pariah in his personal, business and social life, and has been unable to form any new friendships or personal relationships", they say.
NT2’s papers say some financial institutions are unwilling to deal with him "on private or commercial business" after looking him up on Google.
The search engine results have attracted "adverse attention" to him, and by association to members of his close family.
The plaintiffs are being represented by the law firm Carter Ruck, which has a hard-earned reputation for aggressively defending clients in privacy and libel actions.
It was one of the firms to first use super-injunctions — which are court orders that prevent publication of any confidential information relating to a person or an issue, and also any reference to the existence of the order itself.
The plaintiffs’ court papers say that revealing their identity would "defeat the object of the claims".
Google has publicly raised the alarm about risks that it says are posed by the so-called right to be forgotten.
Two separate European Court of Justice cases about that right "represent a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information", the tech giant’s general counsel, Kent Walker, said in a blog post in November.