It’s rare for legal decisions in European Courts to affect Americans. However, the fight over the “right to be forgotten” could be the exception. Last year, EU courts created a “right to be forgotten,” mandating that Google remove links at an individual’s request.
For example, suppose that your home was foreclosed and you were arrested for punching the sheriff who posted the notice to your door. A decade later, you’ve paid off the mortgage and the assault charges have been cleared. However, Google still has your mug shot and your foreclosure record.
If you live in Europe, you could request that Google remove links to information about your arrest and foreclosure from European servers like Google.de or Google.fr.
The main server, Google.com, however, will still retain these links, despite your request. In fact, European privacy groups believe that Europeans are turning to Google.com now that Google’s European servers have been compromised. And that’s exactly why European privacy groups are targeting Google.com next.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
The problem is that Europeans aren’t the only ones who use Google.com. The .com server is the server that most Americans use. If European countries require that Google censor web links on its .com server, then that information would also be censored in the United States as well. The consequences are too vast to be predictable, but I can think of a few.
For instance, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown, could move to Europe and convincingly erase his name from Internet archives. Or what if an American opens a business with a European investor? It’s much harder to tell whether the investor has any shady dealings. Or what if you’re trying to sue a European citizen living in the United States? Although a competent attorney would not rely on the Internet during discovery, writing that claim might be harder if the defendant can magically hide his Internet presence.
What happens if the EU tries to force Google to restrict Google.com? First, it’s debatable whether EU courts have jurisdiction over a foreign company such that the EU could affect how Google manages its website overseas. Second, if the EU did have that power, I am currently unaware of an American law that would compel Google to keep information up. Or Google could ignore EU courts and accept whatever consequences that might entail.
If Google.com is such a problem, why can’t European countries just restrict citizens to European servers? Actually, that is a solution that some countries have taken up. The most prominent country that has limited its citizen’s Internet access is China.
If you’re in China, Google.com is inaccessible and you have to use Google.cn or Google.hk. In China, the purpose of blocking Google.com and restricting access to certain web pages is to keep the state, the Communist Party, and party leaders safe from political critique. Ironically, the EU will be enforcing a type of Internet censorship based on privacy rather than political oppression, but the outcome might still be the same.