These are the criteria we use in deciding whether a particular search result should be delisted. We will consider complaints on a case-by-case basis, but the criteria below should give search engines – and members of the public – a good idea of the factors we will take into account.
These criteria have been developed jointly by the ICO and the other European Data Protection Authorities. They will be kept under review and may be revised from time to time.
Does the search result relate to a natural person – ie an individual – and does it come up against a search on the individual’s name?
- We recognise the particular impact that an internet search based on an individual’s name can have on his or her right to respect for private life.
- We will consider pseudonyms and nicknames as relevant search terms when a complainant can demonstrate that they are linked to his or her ‘real’ identity.
Does the individual play a role in public life?
- We recognise that there is a stronger public interest in people having access to information about individuals that play a role in public life than information about ‘ordinary’ private citizens.
- It is not possible to define comprehensively the type of role that an individual must have to justify the public having access to information about them via a search result. However, politicians, senior public officials, business-people and members of the regulated professions can usually be considered to have a role in public life. This also includes individuals who, due to their roles or activities, have a degree of media exposure.
- A good rule of thumb is to try to decide whether the public having access to the particular information – made available through a search on the individual’s name – would protect them against improper public or professional conduct. If so, we are unlikely to require delisting.
- There may be information about public figures that is genuinely private and that should not normally appear in search results, for example information about their health or their family members.
Is the subject of the search result a child?
- If an individual is legally under age – for example if he or she is under 18 years of age at the time of the publication of the information – we are more likely to require de-listing of the relevant results. We will place considerable weight on the best interests of the child.
Is the data accurate?
- ‘Accurate’ means accurate as to a matter of fact. We recognise the difference between a search result that clearly relates to one person’s opinion of another person and one that appears to contain factual information.
- We recognise that some search results will contain links to content that may be part of a personal campaign against someone, consisting of ‘rants’ and perhaps unpleasant personal comments. Although the availability of such information may be hurtful and unpleasant, this does not necessarily mean that we will require the relevant search result to be delisted.
- We are more likely to require the de-listing of a search result where there is inaccuracy as to a matter of fact and where this presents an inaccurate, inadequate or misleading impression of an individual.
- When an individual objects to a search result on the grounds that it is inaccurate, we will only deal with the request once the complainant provides reasonable evidence to show that the data are in fact inaccurate.
- In cases where a dispute about the accuracy of information is still ongoing, for example in court or when there is on on-going police investigation, we may choose not to intervene until the process is complete.
Does the data relate to the individual’s working life?
- Although all data relating to a person is personal data, not all data about a person is private. We make a basic distinction between a person’s private life and their public or professional activities. The availability of information in a search result becomes more acceptable the less it reveals about a person’s private life.
- Normally information relating to the private life of an individual who does not play a role in public life should be considered ‘irrelevant’. However, those with a role in public life also have a right to privacy, albeit in a limited or modified form.
Does the search result link to information which apparently constitutes hate speech, slander, libel or similarly offensive content targeted at the complainant?
- We are generally not empowered or qualified to make judgements on, or to take action in relation to information that may be criminal in nature such as ‘hate speech’, or that may constitute a civil breach such as slander or libel. In such cases it may be more appropriate for the individual to contact the police or court if a delisting request is refused.
Is the information ‘sensitive’ for the purposes of the DPA?
- Normally ‘sensitive personal data’ (defined in s.2 of the DPA) - for example information about a person’s health, sexuality or religious beliefs - has a greater impact on the individual’s private life than ‘ordinary’ personal data. We are more likely to require delisting when a search result reveals sensitive personal data.
Is the data up to date? Is it being made available for longer than necessary?
- Normally we will require information that is not reasonably current or that has become inaccurate because it is out-of-date to be de-listed – depending on the nature of the information and the public interest in its availability.
Is the data processing causing prejudice to the individual? Is it having a disproportionately negative impact on the individual’s privacy?
- An individual does not have to demonstrate prejudice in order to have a search result de-listed. However, where there is evidence that the availability of a search result is causing prejudice to the individual, this would be a strong factor in favour of de-listing.
- The data might have a disproportionately negative impact on the individual where a search result relates to a trivial or foolish misdemeanour which is no longer – or may never have been – the subject of public debate and where there is no wider public interest in the availability of the information.
Does the search result link to information that puts the individual at risk?
- We recognise that the availability of certain information through an internet search can leave an individual open to risks such as identity theft or stalking. Where the risk is real, we are likely to require de-listing of the search result.
On what basis was the information published originally?
- If the published content the search result relates to was knowingly and voluntarily made public by the individual, or the individual originally agreed to it being published, then it is less likely that we will require a relevant search result to be delisted. However, in some cases the negative privacy impact of a search result continuing to link to such content will warrant delisting even though the individual was originally content for it to be published.
Was the original content published in a journalistic context?
- We recognise the importance of search results in making journalistic content available to the public. However, in some circumstances we could still require a search result relating to journalistic content to be delisted. However, the law provides protection for journalistic activity that is not available to search engines. We will take the importance of journalism and the public’s right to receive and impart information into account when considering complaints about links to journalistic content. We acknowledge that freedom of expression is a fundamental right.
Does the publisher of the data have a legal power – or a legal obligation – to make the personal data publicly available?
- Some organisations are under a legal duty to make certain information about individuals publicly available – for example for electoral registration purposes. Where this is the case, we may not require de-listing of search results relating to the published content whilst the organisation is still under a legal obligation to make the information available. However, we will assess this on a case-by-case basis.
Does the data relate to a criminal offence?
- In handling complaints about search results linking to information about offences and criminal behaviour we will take into account public policy relating to the rehabilitation of offenders and the existence of mechanisms other than internet searches to protect the public from offenders and potential offenders.
- We are more likely to consider the de-listing of search results relating to relatively minor offences that happened a long time ago and less likely to consider the de-listing of results relating to more serious ones that happened more recently. However, these issues call for careful consideration and will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Please note that even if a particular search result is delisted, this does not mean that the published content it relates to will become inaccessible. It may still be accessible through non-name based searches or directly from the publisher’s website.