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The right to be forgotten is alive and well in Belgium

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Liedekerke is proud to report a recent win, by Bernard Vanbrabant & Erika Ellyne, in a case brought by their client, a private individual, against Google on the basis of the “right to be forgotten”. According to Art.17 GDPR, a “data subject” has the right to obtain from the “controller” the erasure of personal data concerning them, inter alia, where the personal data are no longer necessary in relation to the purposes for which they were collected or otherwise processed. The case treated by Bernard and Erika concerned a series of news articles regarding their client’s past run-ins with the judicial authorities. At the time of the client’s troubles, the client had played a role in public life. However, since that period and the criminal conviction which ensued, the client withdrew from any public role. And yet, over 15 years since the publications and despite having been rehabilitated, our client continued to suffer from the infamy and discredit afforded by the perennial press articles.
Having heard about the CJEU’s well-known judgment in the case of Google Spain v. Costeja González, the client sought to benefit from similar measures to have the press articles delisted by Google. Google initially denied the client’s request and further argued in front of the Belgian Court of first instance, in fine, that the public had a right to know of the client’s past and that this fit with the GDPR’s so called ‘new found balance’ of interests which was to tip in favour of the freedom of speech. The Brussels Court of First Instance deemed otherwise. The judgement underlines the importance that local rehabilitation laws should play with regard to the right to be forgotten, and how rehabilitation should not be undermined by lingering news articles. A person has the right to not be eternally haunted by past events – even criminal convictions – and to re-build themselves in the eyes of society, in particular when they have been subject to a measure of judicial rehabilitation. In any event, there was no justification on the basis of the public’s right to be informed, to maintain the referencing of the URL in question, as the client – although once a public figure – no longer played a public role and had become a ‘mere’ self-employed individual; nor did the articles’ subject matter present a particular historical interest, even in light of a current societal debate.
Bernard and Erika are happy to have this case serve as precedent and, most importantly, to have brought some all too long awaited closure and privacy for their client.
For more information and to obtain a copy of the decision, contact e.ellyne@liedekerke.com.