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Google Appeals French Privacy Ruling

Google and French regulators are fighting another round over people's right to privacy.

The search giant said on Thursday that it had filed an appeal to overturn a small but symbolic fine from France's privacy watchdog, which ruled in March that Google had failed to comply with the country's tough data protection laws.

The French regulator fined Google 100,000 euros, or about $112,000, after the company refused to take down links worldwide to online information when people in France had made a legitimate demand to have them removed on privacy grounds.

The penalty is a paltry sum compared with Google's $75 billion in annual revenue. But the company's appeal indicates that Google wants to draw firm boundaries around Internet regulations worldwide.

"This is a debate about the principles of international law that regulate the Internet globally," David Price, a senior product counsel at Google, said in an interview on Thursday. "One nation can't make the laws for another country."

The dispute centers on Europe's so-called right to be forgotten, a two-year-old ruling from the European Court of Justice, the region's highest court. That ruling allows anyone with connections to Europe to ask search providers like Google and Microsoft's Bing service to remove links about themselves from online search results. Individuals must show that the information is no longer relevant. People in the public spotlight, like politicians, cannot apply.

Since the court's ruling in 2014, French officials have demanded that Google apply the legal decision to all of its search domains worldwide, including to in the United States.

In a last-minute gesture, Google agreed in February to revise all search results on any of its domains from in the European Union, but not elsewhere. But the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, the French privacy regulator, still issued its fine the next month.

Google has repeatedly said the French demands to regulate the Internet worldwide could set a worrying precedent for more repressive governments — like China or Russia — to demand that technology companies also bend to their will.

In a blog post on Thursday, Kent Walker, Google's global counsel, said the company had complied with Europe's privacy ruling within the 28-member European Union but believed the "right to be forgotten" decision should not be applied globally.

"We disagree with this demand," he said in reference to the French privacy regulator's stance. "This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one's own country."

In an interview last month, Mathias Moulin, a deputy director at the French privacy agency, said, "We need to balance between someone's privacy rights and the public's access to information."

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the agency declined to comment on Google's appeal.

Over the last two years, Google has received almost 430,000 requests for links to be removed, according to its transparency report. (The French have made the most requests.) Google has approved 43 percent of the European requests.

This volume of activity has raised concerns that Google has essentially become Europe's largest privacy regulator, as it handles more requests than almost all of the region's national authorities have individually.

Other national privacy officials in Europe are also taking a stance against Google. That includes Spain, where officials have demanded the company not inform websites when links to web pages are removed from certain online searches, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions with the regulator were continuing. Google has made a practice of informing websites when links are removed, which critics contend is an effort to rally support against Europe's privacy ruling. Google has not yet complied with the Spanish demands.

A spokesman for the Spanish privacy regulator declined to comment.

In France, Google's appeal, which will be heard by the Conseil d'État, the country's highest administrative court, in the coming months, is unlikely to resolve the continuing standoff over people's right to privacy online. A decision in the case is expected next year.

Speaking at a conference in Berlin last month, Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said that he believed Europe's highest court would eventually have to rule on whether the "right to be forgotten" decision should be applied worldwide.

"The European Court of Justice has established itself as a formidable institution in the privacy debate in Europe and the rest of the world," he said.

Google's privacy face-off in France is one of various regulatory problems it faces in Europe. Already, the company has been charged in two separate European Union competition cases — one related to some of its search services, the other linked to its Android mobile operating system.

A decision, and potential fine, in the antitrust search case may be announced as soon as next month.

[Source: By Mark Scott, The New York Times, 19May16]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 23May16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.