* Privacy watchdogs agreed guidelines to handle appeals
* Regulators seek “toolbox” to weigh privacy vs public interest
* Regulators met with media companies this week (Updates with details of press release)
By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS, Sept 18 (Reuters) - European regulators have agreed on criteria for judging appeals for the “right to be forgotten”, taking into account public profiles or crime for example, when search engines such as Google turn down requests to have information deleted from search results.
But regulators made no mention of two thorny issues: whether search engines ought to inform publishers when articles have been delisted from search results, and whether links ought to be removed from all versions of Google, such as Google.com.
The working group of EU data protection authorities aims to bring some clarity to implementing a landmark court decision in May that gave Europeans the right for the first time to ask search engines to erase information about them from the web.
The guidelines, which are expected to be finalised by the end of November, will set out categories for organising the types of appeals coming in from citizens and create a common record of decisions taken by regulators.
This will help regulators determine whether the information should remain accessible under the individual’s name by asking them to weigh factors such as the public role of the person, whether the information relates to a crime and how old it is.
“We want the toolbox to guide difficult decisions on how to balance the individual’s right to privacy in the Internet age against the public interest,” Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who heads France’s privacy watchdog and the WP29, said earlier this month.
A contact person at each data protection authority will ensure that appeals people file are handled consistently across the EU’s 28 member states, the statement from the Article 29 Working Party (WP29) said on Thursday.
Regulators came up with a draft of the criteria at a two-day meeting in Brussels this week.
Around 90 such appeals have been filed with privacy regulators in Britain, 70 in Spain, 20 in France and 13 in Ireland.
The WP29 members also met with media companies on the sidelines of the meeting to gather their views on how to strike a balance between the freedom of information and privacy. In July they met with search engine companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Google’s decision to notify the media via email that their articles had been scrubbed from results prompted the BBC and The Guardian to write articles about the removals, condemning them as censorship aimed at whitewashing the past.
“There might be single, outstanding cases where involving the publisher might be appropriate. But to do so systematically is undue,” said Johannes Caspar, head of Hamburg’s data protection body in Germany which has jurisdiction over Google.
Google says it has received over 120,000 requests from across Europe to remove from its search results everything from serious criminal records, embarrassing photos and negative press stories. It could not be reached for comment after the meeting.
The May ruling from Europe’s top court sparked a lively debate between free speech advocates who say it will lead to a whitewashing of the past, and privacy campaigners who say it simply allows people to limit the visibility of some personal information.
The Internet giant, which handles over 80 percent of searches in Europe, has previously come under fire for its handling of “right to be forgotten” requests. Its restriction of the removal of Internet links to European sites only, for example Google.de in Germany, has been questioned by several authorities.
“The effect of removing search results should be global. This is in the spirit of the court ruling and the only meaningful way to act in a global environment like the Internet,” said Johannes Caspar, head of Hamburg’s data protection body in Germany which has jurisdiction over Google. (Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson)