Removing records of civil legal proceedings from Google searches

While criminal proceedings often offer a clear pathway for rehabilitation, allowing individuals to eventually distance themselves from past convictions, the realm of civil disputes presents a more complex challenge. Unlike criminal matters, where statutory rights to rehabilitation can lead to the automatic removal or suppression of certain information from public records and online searches, civil proceedings do not afford the same level of clarity or protection.

Table of content

Case study where criminal proceedings turn into a civil agreement

Challenges in delisting articles where civil proceedings are published online

Strategy for delisting records of civil legal proceedings from Google searches

The positive aspects of Google's initial refusal to delist news articles

Lawful grounds for processing personal data cannot be changed down the line

Google's refusal to delist is often temporary

a href="#Lawyer’s thoughts about the case">"awyer’s thoughts about the case

Case study where criminal proceedings turn into a civil agreement

Our firm took on a challenging case involving "Alex Johnson," a former senior officer of a financial services company. The company was accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of fraud, putting Alex in a highly precarious position. The accusations initially pointed towards criminal charges, casting a long shadow over Alex's professional and personal reputation. However, the matter took a turn when the criminal charges were dropped, and instead, a civil settlement was reached with the SEC, without any admission of liability from Alex.

This resolution, while favourable, did not alleviate the reputational damage caused by online articles and content related to the accusations. Despite the settlement and the passage of time, search engines, particularly Google, continued to surface outdated and misleading information that painted Alex in an unfair light. This situation was significantly detrimental, affecting Alex's ability to move forward in his career and personal life, as the digital footprint left by the accusations seemed indelible.

Challenges in delisting articles where civil proceedings are published online

The primary challenge was the refusal of search engines, specifically Google, to delist the outdated content, despite our comprehensive submissions under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Our submissions highlighted the disproportionate impact of the outdated information and sought to clarify Alex's current professional status. Despite these efforts, automated responses and a lack of engagement from Google's side posed significant hurdles.

Strategy for delisting records of civil legal proceedings from Google searches

Our firm embarked on a multi-faceted strategy, beginning with the submission of a detailed GDPR notice to Google, aiming to demonstrate the adverse effects of the data processing on Alex's life. We meticulously argued against the relevance and accuracy of the outdated content, emphasising Alex's right to be forgotten. Upon receiving automated and unsatisfactory responses from Google, we persisted with our efforts, providing further clarifications and submitting a Right to be Forgotten application.

Our engagement with Google included attempts to communicate directly with their legal team, providing a nuanced explanation of Alex's circumstances and the non-relevance of the content to his current professional life. Despite these efforts, Google maintained their stance, citing public interest and Alex's perceived ongoing involvement in the financial sector. Faced with Google's refusal to delist the content, we explored the possibility of formal legal proceedings, including drafting an informal claim form to signal our readiness to litigate.

The positive aspects of Google initial refusal to delist news articles

Our dialogue with Google yielded an important development: while initially resistant, Google acknowledged that the matter had concluded relatively recently. This acknowledgement was a pivotal achievement, as it meant Google had committed to a lawful ground for processing Alex's data. Under GDPR principles, once a data processor like Google commits to a lawful basis for holding data, it cannot shift this stance at a later time.

This legal commitment by Google significantly enhances the prospects of a successful delisting request in the future. As more time passes, this factor will almost guarantee a positive outcome, leading to the removal of all relevant articles from search engine results.

Lawful grounds for processing personal data cannot be changed down the line

Implications of Lawful Processing and Future Prospects The pivotal moment in our legal strategy involved Google's reliance on the lawful basis for processing personal data related to Alex's case. By stating that the refusal for delisting was grounded in the public interest due to the events being relatively recent, Google had effectively committed to a specific lawful ground for processing this data. According to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), once a data processor, such as Google, establishes a lawful basis for processing personal data, it is not permissible to change this basis at a later stage without valid reason. This principle is crucial, as it implies that as time passes, the argument of public interest weakens, especially if the events lose their immediacy and relevance to the public.

The GDPR outlines six lawful bases for processing personal data, emphasising that no single basis is superior to the others. The appropriateness of a lawful basis depends on the processor's purpose and relationship with the individual whose data is being processed. Most of these bases hinge on the necessity of the processing for achieving a specific purpose. If the same outcome can be realised without processing the personal data, then the processing lacks a lawful basis. This aspect of the GDPR underpins our strategic approach to eventually achieving the delisting of the contentious articles from Google searches. Given Google's initial stance, the progression of time naturally tilts the balance in favour of Alex.

The concept of 'recency' as a criterion for public interest suggests that, over time, events that were once considered of public interest due to their immediacy become less relevant and, consequently, less newsworthy. While the GDPR does not specify exact time frames for what constitutes 'recent', it is often interpreted that a matter becomes significantly less relevant for the purposes of public interest after a few years. This gradual shift away from recency offers compelling legal leverage for cases like Alex's, where the primary objection to delisting is the supposed ongoing public interest.

As the events related to Alex continue to age and the argument for their public interest diminishes, the prospects for successfully delisting the misleading articles improve significantly. This understanding informs our forward-looking strategy, preparing us to re-engage with Google at an opportune moment when the lawful basis for processing the disputed data on the grounds of public interest no longer holds. This strategic patience, underpinned by a clear interpretation of the GDPR, positions us to effectively advocate for Alex's right to privacy and reputation management, ultimately aiming for a positive outcome in the removal of outdated and prejudicial content from search engine results.

Google refusal to delist is often temporary

Alex expressed gratitude for our firm's dedication and comprehensive approach, acknowledging the complexities of the case and the current limitations. He appreciated our suggestion to revisit the matter after more time had passed, where there would be a high likelihood for a more favourable outcome as his professional circumstances continue to evolve.

a id="Lawyer’s thoughts about the case" ">"awyer’s thoughts about the case

This case highlights the intricate challenges involved in managing online reputations and exercising the right to be forgotten, especially for individuals in high-profile industries. Our firm's strategic approach, combining legal expertise with persistence, underscores the importance of adapting to the evolving digital landscape.

Although the immediate outcome was not as desired, the case sets a precedent for future actions and the ongoing debate around privacy, online information, and the right to personal and professional reinvention.