The District Court of Amsterdam has overruled the Dutch data protection regulator by declaring Google must remove information about a medical negligence investigation under the ‘right to be forgotten’.
The claimant was a surgeon who had been suspended by a disciplinary panel because of her postoperative care of a patient. However, this was then changed to a conditional suspension which allowed the claimant to continue to practice. It was then discovered by the claimant that upon entering her name into Google, the first results were links to a website containing an unofficial ‘blacklist’. Google and the Dutch regulator contested the removal of the information on the basis that the doctor was still on probation, therefore it was accurate and still relevant.
The District Court of Amsterdam found that the surgeon had “an interest in not indicating that every time someone enters the full name in Googles search engine, immediately the mention of her name appears on the blacklist of doctors”. It was decided that this interest outweighed the public interest in accessing the information this way. The Court acknowledged that the information was publically available elsewhere, without the derogatory overtones of the unofficial blacklist which amounted to ‘digital pillory’. Relevant to this were the rules on confidentiality which may prevent doctors from defending themselves.
The European Court of Justice established the ‘right to be forgotten’ in a 2014 ruling which applied it to outdated and irrelevant data in search results unless there was a public interest in the data remaining available. The right also forms part of Article 17 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which allows European citizens to ask search engines to remove links to inadequate, irrelevant or excessive content. This ruling, however, suggests that unnecessarily damaging information may have to be removed even where accurate and up to date.
It is understood that Google will appeal the decision.