Europe's top court sided with privacy rights supporters on Tuesday, saying that world No. 1 search engine Google can be required to remove sensitive information from its Internet search results.
The case underlines the battle between advocates of free expression and supporters of privacy rights, who say people should have the "right to be forgotten" meaning that they should be able to remove their digital traces from the Internet.
The ruling by the Luxembourg-based European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) came after a Spanish man complained to the Spanish data protection agency that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google's search results infringed his privacy.
The case is one of 180 similar cases in Spain whose complainants want Google to delete their personal information from the Web. The company says forcing it to remove such data amounts to censorship.
The ECJ said the rights of people whose privacy has been infringed outweighed the general public interest.
"If it is found, following a request by the data subject, that the inclusion of those links in the list is, at this point in time, incompatible with the directive, the links and information in the list of results must be erased," judges said.
They said people could ask Google to delete sensitive data or go to a relevant authority if the company fails to comply with their request.
Adopted in 1995, Europe's data protection directive is now currently being revised to make the rules stricter.
Google could not be immediately reached for comment.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]