In June, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered Google to remove global search results for websites accused of selling stolen technology from a British Columbia company. Some analysts referred to the move as the first “global de-indexing order” and expressed concern over the broader implications of such a widespread search engine takedown.
Now, Google is taking the fight to the U.S. — specifically, the US District Court for Northern California. While the case has made it to Canada’s highest court of order and would normally not be able to be appealed, Google is hoping that it will be able to find a loophole within the U.S.’ First Amendment. The tech giant is arguing that the global removal of these search results violates American law, and thus Google should not be forced to comply with the Canadian ruling.
“Google now turns to this Court, asking it to declare that the rights established by the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act are not merely theoretical,” Google wrote in its suit, as spotted by Michael Geist. “The Canadian order is repugnant to those rights, and the order violates principles of international comity, particularly since the Canadian plaintiffs never established any violation of their rights under U.S. law.”
“We’re taking this court action to defend the legal principle that one country shouldn’t be able to decide what information people in other countries can access online,” David Price, senior product counsel at Google, also said in a statement. “Undermining this core principle inevitably leads to a world where internet users are subject to the most restrictive content limitations from every country.”
The whole debacle began as the result of a lawsuit from Equustek Solutions, a Vancouver-based manufacturer that designs networking devices for industrial equipment. Datalink Technologies Gateways was initially responsible for distributing this technology — at least, until it was accused of theft by Equustek.
According to Equustek, Datalink seized its tech and then falsely re-labelled and sold the products as its own, as well as using stolen intellectual to manufacture new products. What’s more, following Equustek’s lawsuit, Datalink denied the accusations and later left the province to carry on with other global business.
As a result, Equustek turned to Google to request that Datalink be dropped from its search engines. However, the company only removed 345 web pages, not Datalink websites, meaning Datalink’s “objectionable content” could be still be relocated to new pages within pre-existing websites. Furthermore, and most importantly, Google only targeted its .ca pages, not .com or other affiliates.
As a result, The Supreme Court ordered that Google remove Datalink’s sites from all of its search results, not just Canada’s. The court said that Google must shoulder at least some of the blame for helping to spread the illicit activity, even if the company wasn’t directly involved the actions themselves. “When non-parties are so involved in the wrongful acts of others that they facilitate the harm, even if they themselves are not guilty of wrongdoing, they can be subject to interlocutory injunctions,” the court said.
The order has quite controversial since. Some analysts, such as McCarthy Tetreault lawyer Barry Sookman said that orders to remove content can be used in positive ways, such as protecting a person’s public image in cases of cyber-stalking, harassment, defamation and the like.
On the other hand, there are those, like OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher, who said that allowing country-specific regulations to have global repercussions can set a dangerous precedent in the future and may even lead to perfectly legal and legitimate content to be unfairly removed.