Spanish courts in 2014 ruled on a civil question regarding the right to privacy. In that case, the complainant requested that Google Spain be required to remove some unflattering information about him that had become totally irrelevant as the embarrassing matter had been completely resolved. The court ruled that because Spain was a member of the European Union, and because Google Spain operated search engines in Spain, Directive 95/46/EC [PDF] passed by the European Parliament applied to the case and provided the complainant with the protections that the directive contained. Accordingly, Google Spain was ordered to remove or otherwise alter the information in order to update their page information about the complainant, even though Google Spain’s servers were not physically located in Europe. The court found that the law allowed the complainant to assert his legal right to compel Google to remove information about the complainant that was “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” This general concept has come to be known as the “right to be forgotten” [PDF].
The court further elaborated, however, that the protections of the directive in this respect were not absolute and are subject balancing against other individuals’ rights. For example, when information is provided “solely for journalistic purposes” [internal quotations omitted], an individual may not be able to compel the data provider to remove the information.
Other countries provide their citizens with similar rights.
The United Kingdom, for example, has passed the Data Protection Act 1998. This law provides individuals with the right, upon the request of that individual, to be notified when a data provider processes that individual’s personal information. Furthermore, individuals are afforded the right to compel data providers not to process their personal information if the processing of their information “caus[es] or is likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to him or to another” and if “that damage or distress is or would be unwarranted.”
Russia has a data protection law very similar to the United Kingdom’s law, entitled the Russian Federal Law on Personal Data [PDF]. Under this law, individuals are “entitled to demand that the operator should keep his personal data current, block or destroy them if the personal data are incomplete, outdated, unlawfully obtained or not necessary for the stated purpose of processing also to take measures provided for by the law in order to protect his rights.”
Both the United Kingdom law and the Russian law also contain provisions allowing individuals to demand that their information not be used by data providers for the purposes of direct marketing.
Countries also provide and enforce privacy laws and doctrines in criminal contexts. Canada’s constitution, for example, contains a provision declaring that Canadian citizens have “the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.” Canadian courts have found [JURIST report] that this provision bars Canadian police from being able to order telecommunication companies to hand over their consumers’ communication data and information.
Other countries have handled privacy in the criminal setting differently. The United Kingdom recently passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 [PDF], a controversial surveillance law [JURIST report] which allows police to access certain communication data without any kind of approval, among other things. A fairly recent amendment [page in Thai] to a law in Thailand, the Computer Crime Act of 2007 [PDF], also allows Thailand law enforcement officials to access online data without any sort of judicial approval. There is further concern [JURIST report] that the law will even lead to the censorship and punishment of individuals who post information that is unfavorable to the government of Thailand.
The aforementioned laws and doctrines, different in their consequences but similar in their objectives, offer a narrow glimpse into the continued development of this area of law in countries around the world.