* EU citizens can ask Google to remove links through online
* EU top court upheld "right to be forgotten" this month
* European data protection agencies meet Tuesday
(Recasts, adds comment from EU executive, privacy group)
By Alexei Oreskovic and Julia Fioretti
SAN FRANCISCO/BRUSSELS, May 30 Google has taken
the first steps to meet a European ruling that citizens can have
objectionable links removed from Internet search results, a
ruling that pleased privacy campaigners but raised fears that
the right can be abused to hide negative information.
The balance between privacy and the freedom of information
has been a hot topic in Europe, whose citizens enjoy some of the
world's strictest data protection laws, especially after last
year's revelations about the extensive global surveillance
programs run by the United States.
Google, which processes more than 90 percent of all Web
searches in Europe, said on Thursday that it had made available
a webform through which people can submit their requests, but
did not say how soon it would remove links that meet the
criteria for being taken down.
The move by the world's most popular search engine comes
just before a two-day meeting of heads of the 28 EU data
protection agencies from Tuesday, during which they are due to
discuss the implications of the EU ruling on May 13.
"It was about time, since European data protection laws have
existed since 1995," said Viviane Reding, the EU's justice
commissioner. "We will now need to look into how the announced
tool will work in practice."
Google said it has convened a committee of senior
Google executives and independent experts to try and craft a
long-term approach to dealing with what's expected to be a
barrage of requests from the EU's 500 million citizens.
"The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult
judgements about an individual's right to be forgotten and the
public's right to know," a Google spokesman said.
THOUSANDS OF REMOVAL REQUESTS
The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union
(ECJ) places Google in a tricky position as it strives to
interpret the EU's broad criteria for "inadequate, irrelevant or
no longer relevant" information.
Advocates of freedom of speech have said that the ruling
paved the way for rich or powerful individuals and criminals to
remove information about them, a claim that is dismissed by
privacy activists since the ECJ allowed Google to apply a public
interest test in deciding whether to remove the links.
"What today's Google application form does is demonstrate
the fallacy behind the frequent complaint that compliance with
EU laws is too cumbersome," said a spokesman for Europe's
consumer digital rights lobby group BEUC.
"There is a major difference between applying and being
granted a right to deletion of personal data."
When evaluating requests, Google says it will consider
whether the results include outdated information about a person,
as well as whether there is a public interest in the
information, such as in cases of professional malpractice,
criminal convictions and the public conduct of officials.
Since the ECJ's ruling, Google has received thousands of
removal requests, according to a person familiar with the
Failure to remove links that meet the EU's criteria can
result in fines.
Google has said it is disappointed with the EU ruling, and
Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said the balance the court
struck between privacy and "the right to know" was wrong.
On Thursday, Google said it would work with data protection
authorities and others as it implements the ruling.
It is not clear when Google will begin to actually remove
any links, and the ruling does not mean that information itself
must be taken down, just the link in search results.
Yahoo Inc which also operates a search engine in
Europe, has previously said it is "carefully reviewing" the
decision to assess the impact for its business and its users.
Microsoft, which operates the Bing search engine, has previously
declined to comment on the ruling.
(Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic and Edwin Chan in San
Francisco, Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Will