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Belgian DPA imposes EUR 600,000 fine on Google for failure to comply with RTBF

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The Litigation Chamber of the Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) has imposed a fine of EUR 600,000 on Google Belgium for not respecting an individual’s right to be forgotten (RTBF), after Google rejected the individual’s request to remove obsolete articles that harmed his reputation from search results.

Facts – The complainant, who by virtue of his position plays a role in public life in Belgium, requested Google Belgium to remove certain search results linked to his name from their search engine. Part of the pages that he wanted to have removed from the search results concerned possible links with a political party, which he refuted. Another part concerned a harassment complaint against him, which was declared unfounded many years ago. Google decided not to remove any of the pages at issue from the search results.

Competence – The Litigation Chamber did not follow Google’s argument that the Belgian DPA would not be competent as the data controller is not Google Belgium but rather Google LLC, which is based in California. According to the Litigation Chamber, the activities of Google Belgium and Google LLC are "inextricably linked" and, hence, the Belgian subsidiary can be held liable. The Litigation Chamber nevertheless followed Google's reasoning that its main establishment in Europe (Google Ireland) is not responsible for the removal from search results.

RTBF – Links with political party – As regards the pages on possible links with a political party, the Litigation Chamber considered that, given the complainant's role in public life, its retention in the search results was necessary in the public interest and thus ruled in Google's favour.

RTBF – Complaint for harassment – With respect to the pages about the harassment complaint against the complainant, the Litigation Chamber decided that the request to be removed from the search results was well-founded and that Google was seriously negligent in refusing to do so. Since the allegations against the complainant were not established, were old and were likely to have serious consequences for the complainant, the rights and interests of the data subject prevailed. According to the Litigation Chamber, Google was particularly negligent as it had evidence that the facts were irrelevant and outdated.

Fine – The Litigation Chamber imposed a fine of EUR 600,000 on Google for failing to remove the pages related to the obsolete complaint from the search results, for the lack of information provided to the complainant to justify this refusal, as well as for the lack of transparency in Google's request form for removal. It also ordered Google to stop referring to the relevant pages in the European Economic Area and to adapt its removal request forms so that it is clear which entity or entities are responsible for the data processing. The fine of EUR 600,000 imposed on Google is the highest fine ever imposed by the Litigation Chamber. To date, the highest fine imposed by its Dispute Resolution Chamber was EUR 50,000.

Our Information Governance & Data Protection (Privacy) team is available to answer any further questions you may have on this topic.

Authors

  • Bastiaan Bruyndonckx
    Partner

    Bastiaan Bruyndonckx

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