Big companies should not be allowed to make decisions about personal data, say ISPs


Google and other search engine companies are “ill-placed” to make judgements on privacy issues, according to the Internet Services Providers’ Association (Ispa), which is calling for decisions to rest in the hands of the Information Commissioner.

Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the association, which represents more than 200 Internet companies, told The Independent: “The Right to be Forgotten judgement puts online companies into the difficult position of having to balance the right to privacy of individuals with right to information of the general public.” He added: “Ispa has consistently argued that companies are ill-placed to make such decisions which should be made by a competent authority such as the Information Commissioner’s Office and its European counterparts.”

This comes as the heads of data protection agencies from across Europe are set to come up with new guidelines in the wake of the right to be forgotten European court ruling, which has seen Google swamped with requests from people wishing to erase their digital history. The two-day meeting starting in Brussels tomorrow will discuss the impact of the controversial decision.

“A first exchange of views between the EU data protection authorities will take place... in order to analyse the consequences of the ECJ’s ruling and to identify guidelines in order to build a common approach of EU data protection authorities on the implementation of the ruling,” according to a statement from the Article 29 Working Party, an independent advisory body on data protection.

The meeting will be chaired by Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the French data protection authority.

“We have put this subject onto the agenda, to know what’s going on in our different countries and if we can build some kind of common guidelines to Google and other search engines... the idea is to have a common approach from data protection agencies in Europe,” she said.

And a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “We will be meeting this week with our EU counterparts for the Article 29 Working Party in Brussels where we will be discussing the matter further. We will be waiting until after these discussions to comment further.”

The British delegation will argue for Google and other companies to be given time to put systems in place to deal with requests, before they begin ruling on any complaints. And the ICO will focus on cases where there is “clear evidence of damage and distress to individuals”, according to deputy commissioner David Smith.

In a blog written in the wake of the controversial decision, he says: “our concern remains how this can be achieved in practice and how to set reasonable expectations for the public about how such a right can operate.”

While the ruling “can help reduce privacy intrusion” he warned: “we have to be realistic about how difficult it can be to completely remove all traces of personal information online.”

And there is now a “key responsibility for the data protection authorities, including the ICO, to interpret and apply this judgment to concerns raised with us... Guidance will be needed from data protection authorities to ensure search providers take the right approach.”

Meanwhile, Yahoo is considering following Google in creating an online form to handle requests from people wanting to hide their past.

In a statement today, a Yahoo spokesperson stated: “In light of the European Court of Justice decision, our team is currently in the process of developing a solution for Yahoo users in Europe that we believe balances the important privacy and freedom of expression interests.”

Microsoft has yet to comment publicly, but is understood to be considering a similar course of action.

It is not just search engines who are being approached by people demanding the removal of links to information about them. In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “We have received a small number of emails since the ruling. Along with other organisations we are considering what implications this ruling will have.”