Carter-Ruck is acting against Google, Inc., (‘Google’) on behalf of a number of clients pursuing claims under the ‘right to be forgotten’ principles.
The actions relate to Google’s refusals to remove links to inaccurate or irrelevant data on the internet, and include claims for breaches of the first six Data Protection Principles enshrined in the Data Protection Act (s.4 DPA), breaches of the right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress (s.10 DPA), misuse of private information, and unlawful infringement of the claimants’ rights to respect for private and family life.
The claims stem from the publication of articles in the media online over a number of years, which remain accessible and which contain information that is or has become erroneous, inaccurate, irrelevant, out-of-date, and/or excessive for the purposes that the articles were originally published.
In early 2015, Google was served with a data subject notice – a statutory mechanism for requesting a data controller like Google to cease processing personal data when doing so causes unwarranted and substantial damage or distress – on behalf of each claimant.
Despite the notices pointing out the problems with the articles and explaining how the articles were prominent search results when information relating to the claimants was input, Google declined to act and rejected the notices.
As we have noted before, the Google v Spain decision obliged search engine operators to comply with requests to remove links to personal data that is inaccurate, irrelevant or excessive, even where the original publication was lawful at the time. The person whose data is processed does not have to prove that he or she has suffered prejudice as a resolute of the processing.
In the context of the reporting of criminal convictions, the move towards a ‘right to be forgotten’ echoes, amongst other developments, the changes in March 2014 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in the UK, under which convictions will now be deemed ‘spent’ much more quickly. Once a conviction is spent, an individual should have a stronger argument that links to data referencing the conviction should be removed.
Our clients are now bringing proceedings against Google, exercising their right to be forgotten and citing the personal and professional harm they and their families have suffered. The claimants say that inclusion of links to the articles, in relevant search results that pertain to the claimants, is not justified as being in the public interest.
They seek orders blocking and/or erasing the sensitive personal data and preventing its processing by internet search engines commonly found in a number of countries. The claimants also seek injunctions to restrain Google from further processing or otherwise misusing their private information, and damages inter alia under s.13 DPA following the Court of Appeal’s decision in Vidal-Hall v Google, which we have previously commented upon.
Following the grant of permissions by the High Court, service of the claim has been effected on Google in California. Defences are due to be served on or by 19 January 2016.
The Court also gave the claimants permission to issue the claims anonymously and to conduct the proceedings using non-corresponding initials in place of their names, and ordered Google not to publish anything which would allow the claimants to be identified. As with many privacy claims, the Court accepted that because the whole purpose of the claims was to challenge the misuse of private information and the processing of personal and sensitive personal data under the DPA, the identification of the claimants in the context of the proceedings themselves would potentially fatally undermine their claims.
Carter-Ruck is acting in these matters on the basis of ‘no win, no fee’ conditional fee agreements, with After The Event insurance provided by Temple Legal Protection, who will recover their premiums from Google if the claims are successful.