Recent newspaper articles widely reported the case decision regarding Google and the fact that individuals can now apply to have stored information “forgotten” or removed after a certain time (see C-131/12 Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González). For family law the impact could be significant particularly as spouses have increasingly used internet evidence over the last few years.
The European Court of Justice has effectively reasserted the right of an individual’s private life and favoured this over the more general right to freedom of speech. The assertion in the media therefore that it will now be possible for an individual to “delete” their internet past is not entirely incorrect. The Judgement did limit the circumstances in which a deletion of data could occur and particularly mentioned that mainly historic data should be deleted. However, the practical reality for a jilted spouse is that they will be now be able to write to the internet search engines and ask to have any “offensive” data removed. It remains to be seen how readily the internet search engines will simply delete such data but nonetheless the effect is likely to be significant.
In practical terms this will mean that a spouse who for example, had had an unsavoury dispute with a business partner some years ago and, in the case where news of the details were linked or reported on the internet, may well be able to ask to remove the link from the search engine provider. This theoretically may introduce a whole new element of litigation in that the other spouse will have to try and print and retain internet data before it is then removed. In the event this happens the Family Courts may have to consider the appropriateness of the actions and whether or not they will make their own ruling on historic evidence.
No matter what, the latest decision is likely to make for some interesting arguments in the litigation process.