BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A senior EU official criticized a series of public meetings held in Europe by Google on a landmark court ruling on the “right to be forgotten”, saying the meetings were part of lobbying efforts against EU data protection rules.
Paul Nemitz, a director in the European Commission’s justice department, made his comments at Google’s Brussels meeting, the last in the series of meetings aimed at helping the world’s most popular Internet search engine implement the judgment.
The European Union’s top court ruled in May that search engines were responsible for content that pops up under searches for people’s names and so must remove links to information deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.
Google subsequently set up an advisory council staffed by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, lawyers, former regulators and a philosopher to come up with recommendations to the U.S. firm.
The council, which has held seven meetings so far across the EU, will draft a report in January next year.
Nemitz said such gatherings suggest Google may not be so amenable toward Europe’s privacy rules.
“In Brussels of course we are used to big-time lobbying activities, and as some have commented these panels may in part be a good-faced (well-intentioned) effort to find practical solutions to the problem, but in part of course also they may be passive-aggressiveness toward our data protection rules and our jurisprudence,” he said at the Brussels meeting.
The meetings have been criticized as a “PR war” against the ruling by data protection authorities, who have also said it seeks to create doubts about the ruling.
“One could have the impression that Google is trying to diminish the effect of the ECJ (European Court of Justice) ruling by publicly discussing it and creating doubts about its meaningfulness,” said Johannes Caspar, the data protection regulator in the German state of Hamburg, in an emailed response to questions. Google’s German headquarters are in Hamburg.
But the members of the council defended their work, saying it fostered debate about privacy on the Internet and they had complete freedom from Google in their deliberations.
Since May, Google has received over 160,000 requests from across Europe affecting over half a million URLs, according to its online transparency report.
The ruling has sparked a lively debate about privacy on the Internet, and pitted privacy advocates against free speech campaigners who say it risks leading to censorship of the Internet.
Editing by Keiron Henderson