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Force Google to black out searches in new privacy law - MPs

Web giant could be compelled to obey banning orders

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Google should be forced to block content via its search results where a court in Blighty has found that such material breaches an individual's privacy, MPs and peers cautioned in a lengthy report published today.

The cross-party bunch of politicos called on the government to consider a new law that would compel Google to stop such sensitive information being leaked online.

In the Privacy and injunctions report, Google comes under sharp criticism.

We recommend that the courts should be proactive in directing the claimant to serve notice on social networking platforms and major web publishers when granting injunctions.

We also recommend that major corporations, such as Google, take practical steps to limit the potential for breaches of court orders through use of their products and, if they fail to do so, legislation should be introduced to force them to.

An effective deterrent against future breaches of injunctions online would be for the Attorney General to be more willing to bring actions for civil contempt of court for such breaches.

Google, for its part, has been in this position before, when it had to defend its business practices in November last year following Max Mosley's decision to sue the internet giant. The ex-Formula One boss took legal action after Google snubbed his requests to pull content about his sex life from its search engine results.

Mountain View said at the time that its search results "reflect the information available on billions of web pages on the internet" and added:

We don't, and can't, control what others post online, but when we're told that a specific page is illegal under a court order, then we move quickly to remove it from our search results.

But the Westminster committee, chaired by John Whittingdale MP, has largely dismissed Google's rebuff of Mosley, whose case was highlighted in the report.

The politicos noted that Google had confirmed it was possible to develop an algorithm that could "proactively" monitor websites for such material in order to prevent it from appearing in search results.

Google's associate general counsel Daphne Keller had told the committee that her company did not find such a move to be a desirable policy for the Chocolate Factory.

The committee retorted in its report:

We find their [Google's] objections in principle to developing such technology totally unconvincing. Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology. We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced.

The same report also pointed at other internet players such as Facebook and Twitter and cited examples, such as the Ryan Giggs' injunction case, where a need to "limit the capacity of online breaches" should be recognised.

Just yesterday, Google refused to co-operate with a Japanese court order to suspend auto-complete searches for a man's name over claims of defamation.

In Parliament last week, Labour MP Kevin Brennan put the following loaded question to Ministry of Fun's under-secretary Hugh Robertson:

Google is failing to enforce privacy rulings online, dragging its feet when told to take down offending material and prioritising websites that carry illegal, unlicensed content at the top of its search results. When will Ministers act to ensure that Google prioritises legal sites over illegal sites?

Robertson retorted: "We have regular discussions with Google on all these issues. It is better than the Hon Gentleman suggests at taking down illegal material, and those discussions will continue." ®

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