In ruling on a man's request that Google Inc. remove internet search results showing his arrest for breaking the child prostitution and pornography law, the Supreme Court said search results can be ordered deleted only when the value of privacy protection clearly surpasses that of information disclosure. The decision, while turning down the man's request, is significant in that it for the first time sets down a principle for judging whether certain search results should be allowed to remain on the internet. The ruling should provide an opportunity for both legal professionals and ordinary citizens to start public discussions on the question of the right to know, freedom of expression and protection of privacy on the internet — issues that impact most people in this day and age.
The plaintiff was arrested in November 2011 and was fined ¥500,000 for a summary conviction of breaking the child prostitution and pornography law. In 2015, the Saitama District Court ordered the deletion of search results showing the arrest by citing the "right to be forgotten" regarding criminal histories — a ruling that received wide attention as the first court ruling citing such a right. Last year, the Tokyo High Court overturned the ruling, saying that such a right is not stipulated under law and that its grounds and consequences are not clear.
The decision in late January by the five-justice Third Petty Bench of the Supreme Court, which upheld the high court ruling, seems to have attached greater importance to freedom of expression and the right to know in the internet age. Without touching on the right to be forgotten, the justices unanimously declared that search results should be deleted only when the benefits deriving from the nondisclosure of facts related to people's privacy clearly exceed the value of freedom of expression on the part of search engine operators — an opinion that will serve as a principle for the judiciary's handling of similar cases.