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locating debtors and the right to be forgotten online - debt collection implications

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 - Posted by Philip Harvey

So how does the Court of Justice of the European Union recent decision giving EU citizens the right to be forgotten affect debt collection practices?

Pragmatically, if you are collecting debts in Australia and using search engines such as Google or Yahoo to locate debtors nothing has changed, for the moment. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds internationally in the coming years.

Background:

A Spanish man complained to Google that when a search in his name was undertaken in Google, it would display a search result showing an eviction and auction in 1988 of his house. He argued to Google that this information was no longer relevant.

Google refused to remove the link. So the man took Google to court using a 1995 European law on data protection. The court ruled in his favour, and ruled that Google had an obligation to remove links to "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" information. Google were arguing that the public has a right to know, and that the information was publicly available information.

What this means in Europe:

It has established a right for an EU citizen to make an application to the relevant search engine to remove links to inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant information.

Google have setup an online web form for EU citizens to make applications to be forgotten. Over 12,000 applications were submitted on the first day.

The completed web forms are then reviewed by a human at Google who have to make a judgment about the information - if they deem it to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant information, then the link will be removed.


What this means in Australia for debt collection

At this stage, nothing has changed. Google is not obligated to remove any links for Australian citizens. This does not appear to change any time soon.

Should a similar ruling ever make it way to Australia, the effect on debt collection practices would come down to how broadly "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" information is interpreted.



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