In 1991, the Spanish newspaper El País published an article centered on a dispute between Madrid plastic surgeon Hugo Guidotti Russo and one of his patients over an allegedly botched breast surgery. The headline: “The Risk of Wanting to Be Slim.”
Nearly 20 years later, Dr. Guidotti Russo, backed by Spain’s privacy regulator, contends that the tale of the dispute is personal information and wants to purge the article from Google, where it shows up on the first page of results when his name is searched.
His complaint accounts for one of about 80 instances in which the Spanish regulator has told U.S.-based Google Inc. to remove personal information about individuals from its search results. Google says it plans to challenge most of those orders, arguing that the agency is overstepping its authority.
In January, a Spanish court heard the first five complaints that Google is contesting, including Dr. Guidotti Russo’s. Now, after weeks of deliberation, the Spanish court is considering referring the matter to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to clarify European privacy law, according to a person familiar with the situation. […]
Such a referral could pave the way for a major Europe-wide ruling on the indexing of personal data on the Web—but it also could delay a resolution for years. European lawmakers in Brussels, meanwhile, are working on an overhaul of the same European Union data-protection law the Luxembourg court could be asked to interpret. […]
A movement has cropped in parts of Europe to create a “right to be forgotten,” which would let individuals excise personal information from the Web on privacy grounds. The European Commission, as part of its data-protection overhaul, has proposed recognizing such a right. France’s Senate has also approved similar proposals, which have yet to be ratified by the National Assembly.
Though freedom-of-expression provisions of Spanish law protect newspapers, legal gazettes and other publishers from government censors, the Spanish data regulator contends the protections don’t extend to Internet search engines like Google.
The idea is that the Internet shouldn’t retain, or remember, a citizen’s personal data and leave it accessible in perpetuity.