A Right to be Forgotten: Reportings of criminal proceedings and protecting a victim's privacy

This case study is about reports from courts of criminal proceedings in which our client wanted to be removed from online searches under a right to be forgotten.

In this case study, we will discuss how our law firm effectively advocated for a private individual, a former personal companion, who fell victim to harassment and stalking. We will outline the difficulties our client faced following the publication of sensitive information by the Times newspaper and our successful submission to Google under the right to be forgotten.

Table of content

#Background to the right to be forgotten case

#The right to be forgotten to Google following a news report of a court case

#Challenges in delisting articles about a court case from Google

#Solicitors’ thoughts about this right to be forgotten case


Background to the right to be forgotten case

Our client, whom we will refer to as Ms Doe, worked as a personal companion (escort) in 2018. During her time in this profession, she encountered a client who began to harass and stalk her. The situation escalated to the point where Ms Doe decided to pursue legal action against her stalker. The court found the stalker guilty of harassment and granted a restraining order against him.

Following the trial, Ms Doe chose to move on with her life and left the personal companion industry. However, the Times newspaper published an article detailing the outcome of the legal proceedings, including Ms Doe's private and sensitive information. This publication caused significant distress for Ms Doe and served as a constant reminder of her traumatic experience. Moreover, the article made it difficult for her to obtain employment, as potential employers would discover her past while conducting background checks.

The right to be forgotten to Google following news report of a court case

Our law firm recognised that Ms Doe's case fell under the right to be forgotten, a legal principle that allows individuals to request the removal of personal information from search engine results under specific circumstances. We submitted a GDPR Notice to Google, arguing that the Times article contained outdated and misleading content, as well as infringed on Ms. Doe's rights to privacy and family life. In our submission, we emphasised the following key points:

  1. The content in question was outdated: The article referenced events that took place four years ago, and Ms Doe had since moved on from her previous profession.
  2. The information was misleading: The article painted an unfair picture of Ms Doe and failed to reflect her current circumstances or professional pursuits.
  3. Breach of privacy and family life: The publication of sensitive information, including her past profession, violated Ms Doe's rights to privacy and family life, as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

After reviewing our submission, Google agreed to delist the offending article from its search results across Europe. This decision marked a significant victory for our client, as it allowed her to reclaim her privacy and begin rebuilding her life without the constant reminder of her past.

Challenges in delisting articles about a court case from Google

Throughout Ms Doe's case, our law firm faced several significant challenges. Some of the most notable challenges include:

  • Public interest argument: Google initially argued that the information in question was of public interest, as it pertained to a legal proceeding and the outcome of a harassment case. This argument posed a challenge, as it required us to demonstrate that Ms Doe's right to privacy outweighed the public's interest in accessing the information.
  • Balancing availability and privacy: To address Google's public interest argument, we had to emphasise that we were not requesting the removal of the article from the internet entirely. Instead, we argued that the article could remain available online, provided it did not appear in search results for our client's name. This distinction was crucial in our efforts to strike a balance between the public's right to access information and Ms Doe's right to privacy.
  • Demonstrating the impact on Ms Doe's life: Another challenge involved substantiating the detrimental effects the article had on Ms Doe's life. We needed to gather evidence and present a compelling case demonstrating how the publication of her private information had caused her distress and hindered her ability to secure employment.
  • Navigating the complexities of privacy law: Privacy law, particularly in the context of the right to be forgotten, can be intricate and continuously evolving. Successfully advocating for our client required us to stay up-to-date with the latest legal developments, precedents, and nuances in this area of law.
  • Fair reporting from legal proceedings argument: One of the challenges we faced when advocating for Ms Doe's right to be forgotten was Google's argument that reporting from legal proceedings was excluded from the scope of the right to be forgotten. Google relied on guidance issued by data protection authorities that suggested that reporting on legal proceedings should not be removed under the right to be forgotten.
  • However, as we argued, this guidance did not constitute a binding legal framework, and there were cases where courts had limited the right of search engines to display certain types of personal data, even if they were linked to legal proceedings. For instance, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Google Spain case (C-131/12) held that search engines could be obliged to remove certain search results containing personal data, even if that information related to a legal proceeding. Moreover, the CJEU clarified that there was a balance to be struck between the right to privacy and the public interest in accessing information.  Specifically, the court held that search engines must assess whether the information was adequate, relevant, and not excessive in relation to the purposes for which it was processed and whether it was accurate and up to date. We relied on this legal precedent and argued that in Ms Doe's case, the sensitive information was no longer relevant or accurate, and its display on Google's search results infringed on Ms Doe's right to privacy.

By emphasising the legal principles and legal precedent surrounding the right to be forgotten, we were able to persuade Google to delist the article and protect our client's privacy. Overall, the right to be forgotten and its application to reporting on legal proceedings remains a complex and evolving legal issue.

However, as lawyers, it is our duty to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and case law and to present persuasive arguments that balance the right to privacy and the public's right to access information. By effectively addressing these challenges and presenting a persuasive argument, we were able to secure a favourable outcome for our client and protect her privacy and future prospects.

Solicitors’ thoughts about this right to be forgotten case

As lawyers who handled Ms Doe's case, we have several thoughts about the case and its implications:

Balancing privacy and public interest

This case highlights the delicate balance between an individual's right to privacy and the public's interest in accessing information. While it is essential to preserve freedom of speech and the press, it is also crucial to protect the privacy of individuals, especially victims of crimes. In this case, we believed that Ms Doe's privacy rights outweighed the public's interest in accessing the information.

Importance of the right to be forgotten

This case underscores the value of the right to be forgotten, which offers a legal remedy for individuals seeking to reclaim their privacy and move on with their lives. By utilising this principle, we were able to help Ms Doe remove a significant barrier to her future employment and well-being.

Precedent for future right to be forgotten cases

Ms Doe's case serves as an example of how the right to be forgotten can be applied to protect individuals in similar situations. It may encourage others who have experienced trauma or harassment to seek legal remedies to protect their privacy and rebuild their lives.

Evolving legal landscape of the right to be forgotten

This case demonstrates the ever-evolving nature of the legal landscape, particularly in the area of privacy and digital rights. As technology continues to advance and more personal information becomes accessible online, the importance of safeguarding privacy rights becomes increasingly paramount.

The role of search engines and online platforms in protecting privacy under the right to be forgotten

Ms Doe's case also brings attention to the role of search engines and online platforms in managing personal information. These entities have a responsibility to balance the free flow of information with the protection of users' privacy rights, requiring them to make difficult decisions regarding content removal requests.

In conclusion, Ms Doe's case allowed us to advocate for her right to privacy and the right to be forgotten effectively. It serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting individuals' rights in an increasingly digital world and the role of legal professionals in navigating complex privacy issues.