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Google in dispute with data ombudsman over murder convict info

Search engine giant Google has issued a complaint to the Administrative Court of Helsinki over Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio's insistence that Google remove information pertaining to the identity of a man convicted of murder from the internet. Aarnio says the man's illness extends his privacy protection.

Kuvakaappaus Google hausta.
Search results in Finnish with the search topic "murder with diminished responsibility". Image: Yle

Google has complained to the Administrative Court of Helsinki over an information removal decision passed by data ombudsman Reijo Aarnio.

The ombudsman moved that the identifying information of the man, convicted of murder, should be removed from the internet due to an illness he suffers that extends his right to privacy. Google says that the decision represents an illegal curbing of freedom of speech.

Aarnio issued his first demands for data removal in December, the first of which involved the convict's search results. A second case involved removing information on two entrepreneurs charged with economic crimes, which Google did not contest.

Data Ombudsman: Broad availability unnecessary

The Data Protection Ombudsman put forward that the man convicted of murder should have identifying information pertaining to him removed because having the data available is unnecessary and goes against his right to privacy. The man was not sentenced to life in prison and the court defended its unusual decision with the man's autism, which grants him diminished responsibility.

The man's name was published in a newspaper but removed once the paper discovered the man's illness. However, the information was spread elsewhere and Aarnio says that all links that can lead to the man being identified should be removed.

Aarnio also says that the need for the information to be public is not the same or as high as in the case of a crime committed with malice aforethought.

Google: Violent crime sentences hot topic

Search engine giant Google claims that the ombudsman misused his discretion in the matter, because the public's right to acquire information on the murder case overrides the convict's right to privacy. Google's grounds for its argument is that the crime was serious and raised interest in the public.

Google also presses the point that the assessment of violent crimes and the interpretation of the letter of the law have been topics of considerable political debate in Finland.

The company says that the public must have the opportunity to discuss the issue and share views on why the man was not charged with life imprisonment. This, Google claims, is only possible and effective if the search results on the man in question are freely available online.

Google also says that ombudsman Aarnio's decision restricts freedom of speech and is based solely on privacy policy. The company exaggeratedly equated the information removal decree with saying that the people have the freedom of speech, "but only in their cellars where no one can hear them."

Solution months away

The Administrative Court of Helsinki has delivered Google's complant to the Data Protection Ombudsman for a statement, following which Google may still issue a counter-argument before the final decision is made. The process will take a number of months.

The case can still be taken to the Supreme Administrative Court after the Helsinki court's decision.

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