The Court of Justice of the European Union. Photo by sprklg, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Supporting access to accurate information online is key to our vision of a world in which every single person can freely share and participate in the sum of all knowledge. For that reason, the Wikimedia Foundation has just filed observations before the Court of Justice of the European Union, on the issue of global search engine delistings. We remain strongly opposed to widespread delisting of accurate, encyclopedic information, which poses a fundamental threat to access to knowledge.

Under European Union law, people have the right to request that search engines delist links to pages that contain certain information about them from search results for their name. In May 2015, the French data protection authority (CNIL) ordered Google to carry out search engine delistings on all of its domains, worldwide. This means that even in other countries and regions, users would be unable to find those websites. Google challenged this ruling, and the Wikimedia Foundation filed a petition to intervene in that case, illustrating the ways in which access to free knowledge on the Wikimedia projects would be directly impacted by the CNIL order. Last July, the Conseil d’État requested guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the scope of search engine delistings. Once the CJEU rules on these questions, the case will return to the French courts.

On November 29, 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation filed observations (link in French) before the CJEU, expressing our ongoing concerns about global delisting. This isn’t just a European issue, however. Our filing is just the latest in our ongoing efforts to fight such orders, and follows our recent interventions in the Equustek v. Google case in both Canadian and US courts. The judiciary, legislatures, and the general public of various countries continue to have differences of opinion on what types of information should be publicly available. The internet is a global network that enables access to knowledge across borders. If one country’s law calls for search engine delistings, that action should not affect access to accurate, important information for citizens of other countries.

Additionally, if a country’s law allows delisting requests, national courts are in the best position to make these calls, not private parties. The public interest in certain information may vary from country to country. National courts have the local knowledge and expertise to evaluate the local relevance of a particular piece of information and its importance to public discourse.

The very concept of search engine delistings contradicts the Wikimedia movement’s goal of increasing access to knowledge, by deliberately making some important, factual information less accessible to the public. It also directly hurts the growth of the Wikimedia projects, as a large proportion of traffic to the projects originates from search engines. The Wikimedia community of volunteer contributors continually works to ensure that all information on the projects meets their standards of accuracy and quality, and delisting of links in search results will make it more difficult for people to discover the reliable, well-sourced information the projects contain.

We hope that the CJEU will choose to support access to knowledge online, and conclude that any search engine delistings ordered by a particular national court should not take effect around the world. We will continue to update you on the case as it progresses.

Leighanna Mixter, Technology Law and Policy Fellow, Legal
Wikimedia Foundation