Florida Privacy Rights: Will Google be ordered to filter results in the United States, too?

 In Law Planet

SearchInternet search engine Google was recently ordered to recognize the privacy rights of individuals subject to the European Union. Could this happen in Florida? Florida citizens do have a constitutional right to privacy, after all. However, the question is “does that constitutional right to privacy afford protections to Florida citizens who object to what search engines come up with?”

The Google case arose from Spain, where Spain’s national court asked for advice regarding a case filed by a person who objected to the search engine pulling up a 1998 legal notice regarding an unpaid welfare debt. The Spaniard argued that the debt had long been settled and that his privacy rights were being violated. The Spanish agency originally agreed, but Google refused and took the matter to court. Google blamed the source of the legal notice and claimed it could not be ordered to censor something that was out in the public domain. The net effect of this high court decision (which is unappealable) is that the world’s largest search engine might be forced to acknowledge complaints of individuals (and eventually businesses) on stale or old information or documentation being pulled up through a search engine.

Could Florida’s constitutional right to privacy be used in a lawsuit against Google arguing the same thing? Probably not. The difference between the Florida constitutional right to privacy found in Article 1, §23 of the Florida Constitution and the Spanish privacy laws is that Florida’s law only applies to government intrusions.

Florida’s constitutional privacy law (Article I, §23) states:

“Right of Privacy.  Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into his private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.”

The Spanish privacy law is more attuned to a statute, and such statutes in Europe can frequently be trumped by rules or regulations of the European Union. The net effect of this decision is that Google is now faced with several hundred pre-existing requests for removal of articles or data that persons found objectionable. The ruling does not require that the articles or data be filtered, only that Google must now weigh the legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to the information against the individual’s right to privacy. When such an agreement can’t be reached, the matter can be referred to a local judge or regulator. This is perhaps the first reference to an inherent privacy right that will affect Internet search engines forever. Only time will tell whether Google’s political influence will result in the European Union changing such protections. Likewise, only time will tell if Google has the political power to exercise such influence in the United States.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by​ phanlop88

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