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France Orders Google to Block Mosley Images

When Max Mosley was secretly filmed by the defunct News of the World at a sex party involving prostitutes, he admitted most of the accusations while denying that it was 'Nazi-themed.' His father had, of course, been leader of the British Fascist party at the time of the Second World War.

Mosley sued the newspaper for breach of privacy, and won in both Britain and France. At the time, the BBC reported, "Mr Justice Eady said he could expect privacy for consensual "sexual activities (albeit unconventional)". The problem for Mosley is that the cat was not merely out of the bag, it was on the internet – and since then he has been trying to remove or block access to photos from the party; especially when made available via Google's search engine.

Yesterday the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris, France, ruled in his favor. Reuters reports, "The court ordered the Mountain View, California company to 'remove and cease, for a period of five years beginning two months after this decision, the appearance of nine images identified by Max Mosley in the Google Images search engine results.'" The court also awarded Mosley a symbolic €1 in damages, and €5,000 in costs.

"This is a welcome decision," said Mosley via his lawyers, Collyer Bristow. "The action was brought in respect of a small number of specific images ruled illegal in the English and French courts several years ago. Despite their illegality and my repeated notifications to them, Google continued to make the images available on its own web pages."

But the ruling has major ramifications for the Internet in Europe – something that is not lost on Google. The basis is whether search engines have a responsibility for the content on links they provide. Google believes they do not, and that being forced to remove what it is not responsible for is tantamount to censorship. "This is a troubling ruling with serious consequences for free expression and we will appeal it," said Google's associate general counsel Daphne Keller.

"Even though we already provide a fast and effective way of removing unlawful material from our search index, the French court has instructed us to build what we believe amounts to a censorship machine." This will be noted by the European Parliament. The proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes the right to erasure (commonly called the right to be forgotten) of personal data. This is technically very difficult; but if Google already has such an ability courtesy of the Mosley censorship machine, the requirement becomes far more feasible.

And in the UK, it will not be lost on prime minister Cameron. His much-vaunted ISP-led porn filter came with a call for curbs on the search engines. "Mr Cameron said web firms should block all searches that include words on a blacklist being drawn up by watchdogs and ensure warning signs flash up telling internet users that material they are trying to access is against the law. He threatened legislation unless there is significant progress by October," reported the Daily Mail in July. France has now instructed Google to produce the technology that will allow Cameron's blacklist.

It leads to a troubling question: where does the protection of privacy end, and the imposition of censorship begin? "Search engines don't host information and trying to get them to censor legal content from their results is the wrong approach," Nick Pickles director of the UK's Big Brother Watch warned Infosecurity. "Information should be tackled at source, otherwise we start getting into dangerous territory.

"We absolutely need to do more to give people an informed choice over what data is collected about them by companies like Google, but if we start making intermediaries responsible for the actions and content of other people, you're establishing a model that leads to greater surveillance and a risk of censorship."

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