Key facts of the case:
- The applicant company is the owner of Delfi, an Internet news portal that published up to 330 news articles a day at the time of the lodging of the application. Delfi is one of the largest news portals on the Internet in Estonia. It publishes news in Estonian and Russian in Estonia and also operates in Latvia and Lithuania.
- At the material time, at the end of the body of the news articles there were the words “add your comment” and fields for comments, the commenter’s name and his or her e-mail address (optional). Below these fields there were buttons labelled “publish the comment” and “read comments”. The part for reading comments left by others was a separate area which could be accessed by clicking on the “read comments” button. The comments were uploaded automatically and were, as such, not edited or moderated by the applicant company. The articles received about 10,000 readers’ comments daily, the majority posted under pseudonyms.
- Nevertheless, there was a system of notice-and-take-down in place: any reader could mark a comment as leim (an Estonian word for an insulting or mocking message or a message inciting hatred on the Internet) and the comment was removed expeditiously. Furthermore, there was a system of automatic deletion of comments that included certain stems of obscene words. In addition, a victim of a defamatory comment could directly notify the applicant company, in which case the comment was removed immediately.
- The applicant company had made efforts to advise users that the comments did not reflect its own opinion and that the authors of comments were responsible for their content.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
The Court holds, by fifteen votes to two, that there has been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
56. In a judgment of 13 May 2014 (Case C-131/12 Google Spain and Google) the CJEU was called on to interpret Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. It found that the activity of an Internet search engine was to be classified as “processing of personal data” within the meaning of Directive 95/46/EC and held that such processing of personal data, carried out by the operator of a search engine, was liable to affect significantly the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data (guaranteed under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) when the search by means of that engine was carried out on the basis of an individual’s name, since that processing enabled any Internet user to obtain through the list of results a structured overview of the information relating to that individual that could be found on the Internet and thereby to establish a more or less detailed profile of him or her. Furthermore, the effect of the interference with the rights of the data subject was heightened on account of the important role played by the Internet and search engines in modern society, which rendered the information contained in such a list of results ubiquitous. In the light of the potential seriousness of that interference, it could not be justified merely by the economic interest of the operator. The CJEU considered that a fair balance should be sought between the legitimate interest of Internet users in having access to the information and the data subject’s fundamental rights. The data subject’s fundamental rights, as a general rule, overrode the interest of Internet users, but that balance might, however, depend on the nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information. The CJEU held that in certain cases the operator of a search engine was obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, even when its publication in itself on the web pages in question was lawful. That was so in particular where the data appeared to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they had been processed and in the light of the time that had elapsed.