Time is not the only element which needs taking into consideration when examining cases concerning the right to be forgotten, since in addition to which, the public role of the parties involved and the current relevance of the news itself are also important factors that need taking into account.
Although the time elapsed since the facts reported in the press is the most important element in evaluating whether an application for the “right to be forgotten” will be successful, in a recent decision the Italian DPA has pointed out that other circumstances also need to be evaluated.
The decision concerns the appeal made by a high-ranking public official who requested Google to remove certain search results obtained by typing in his name. The point in question was a link to articles reporting news of a court case dating back 16 years, which had terminated with the conviction of the official, whose name had then been fully cleared in the course of the following years. One of the articles, the removal of which had been requested, had been published at the time of the facts while other more recent ones had picked up the story again at the time of the public official’s appointment to an important new post.
The Italian DPA stated that in evaluating a case involving the right to be forgotten it is necessary to take into account all search results found by typing in the first name and second name of the data subject concerned, which are also associated with other descriptive terms, such as the office held or the circumstances of the conviction.
This is an interpretation in line with the widely known decision by the European Court of Justice of 13th May 2014, known as “Google Spain”, in which the judges handed down a ruling ordering the search engine to remove from the list of results of a search made starting with the name of a person, those links to web pages published by third parties and containing data relating to that person, also in the case in which the name or the data are not previously or simultaneously withdrawn from the web pages and also when their being made available on those web pages is legal to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, also in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.
According to the ruling all urls reachable through a search “starting from the name” must be considered, and so without excluding the possibility that other descriptive terms may be linked to the name in order to find more specific results.
Once this important point had been clarified, the DPA ordered Google to deindex the url with the single direct link to the only article carrying the news of the plaintiff’s criminal conviction. In fact, the DPA considered that, due to the time elapsed and the fact that the plaintiff’s name had been cleared, the news was no longer relevant to the current situation.
Conversely, with regard to the other articles indicated by the applicant, the DPA recognised that, although referring to the same court case, these “contain the story in a broader context of information, in which other information is also provided”, which is connected to the public role held by the interested party and that those results were without doubt of public interest “in addition due to the role in public life held by the applicant”. Therefore, with regard to the request for their removal, the DPA dismissed the complaint as unfounded.