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Google faces off against Spain’s data protection authority

In what could prove to be a landmark case with a potentially far-reaching impact on the way search engines operate, Google faced Spain's data protection authority in the highest European court on Tuesday.

Reuters reports that the lawyers lawyers for the Spanish data protection authority urged the court to barre Google from publishing any information that could breach an individual's rights to privacy and dignity. But attorneys representing the Mountain View, California-based firm tried to defend the company against what Spain's regulators argued is a responsibility to erase lawful content that could impact users' privacy.

"There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available," Google's Head of Free Expression, EMEA, William Echikson, wrote in a blog post. "People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online."

The onus is on the European court to decide whether Google should be deemed a mere host or the "controller" of the information it displays in its search results.

Tuesday's arguments from both parties marked the beginning of this high-profile case, but it could be months before the court hands down an opinion.