The ECJ ruling didn't order the newspaper itself, La Vanguardia, to remove its original article, as González had also requested. Instead, the court simply ordered Google to remove all links to the auction notice from its search engine. Ironically, the ECJ's ruling explicitly mentions González's auction notice and financial trouble. Will the court order that its own decision be made unsearchable online?
The court recognized what some European legislators call "the right to be forgotten"—the idea of giving ordinary citizens more control over their personal data, including its deletion. Its ruling sets a precedent for both national courts and the ECJ itself in future cases. "If an individual no longer wants his personal data to be processed or stored by a data controller, and if there is no legitimate reason for keeping it, the data should be removed from their system," stated Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, when describing the proposed right in 2012. A European Commission memo noted that the right "is about empowering individuals, not about erasing past events or restricting freedom of the press."
Legally obscuring a person's past isn't an entirely new concept. "In Europe, the intellectual roots of the right to be forgotten can be found in French law," wrote law professor Jeffrey Rosen in a Stanford Law Review article on the subject, "which recognizes le droit à l’oubli—or the 'right of oblivion'—a right that allows a convicted criminal who has served his time and been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration."
Similar protections exist to a degree in the United States for minors: Many news outlets don't publish their names, for example, and courts can expunge their criminal records when they reach adulthood to prevent lifetime stigmatization. But the First Amendment would make a "right to be forgotten" virtually impossible to create or enforce in the American legal system. The U.S. Supreme Court already ruled in 1989 that penalizing a newspaper for publishing truthful, lawfully obtained information from the public record was unconstitutional, for instance.
Because La Vanguardia obtained the auction notice for González's house from local public records, the court's ruling would seem to contradict the purpose (and name) of public records. "I do not know of any similar case where on the one hand a government publishes information, and on the other hand punishes telling people where to read it," Wales noted.
Fundamental differences in legal philosophy also make it unlikely that the EU's new right will cross the Atlantic. One person's right to be forgotten logically imposes a responsibility to forget upon someone else. That concept of rights is alien to American law: With a single exception, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights bind the government, not the people. The Thirteenth Amendment uniquely restricts the American people themselves—and quite rightly so—by forbidding them from owning one another. By comparison, embarrassing Google search results don't exactly pose the same inherent threat to liberty and equality.