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Europe's highest court ruling Tuesday that people have the "right to be forgotten" and can ask Google to remove some sensitive information from Internet search results is "huge," privacy experts say.

The ruling is "groundbreaking," said Trevor Hughes, president and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

"Individuals now have the ability to essentially go in with a virtual black marker and redact their names," Hughes said.

It will "fundamentally change the landscape not only in the field of privacy, but also in the information economy generally," Hughes said.

The judgment was handed down by the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union in a development that highlights ongoing battles between supporters of privacy rights and those who advocate for freedom of expression.

The court ruled that Google, if asked to do so, must amend links to information shown to be outdated or information deemed to be irrelevant.

"An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on Web pages published by third parties," the judges added.

The case followed complaints from a man in Spain who argued that when Google's search results revealed details published in a local newspaper about an auction of his repossessed home, that infringed on his privacy rights.

"It's a very powerful statement in support of privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

"It's going to create additional burdens for Google and other companies," he said. "But that's the cost of doing business if your business involves disseminating information," he said.

The ruling stated that the individual's fundamental rights override "the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public" in having access to that information.

Google expressed disappointment with the decision.

"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," the search-engine giant said in a statement. "We now need to take time to analyze the implications."

The technology firm had argued that it doesn't control personal data, it just offers links to information already freely and legally available on the internet.

The European high court effectively said that any company that gathers or indexes information about European citizens is subject to its laws, even if the company has no physical presence in that nation, because the information is being presented in that country via the internet, said Hughes.

Dealing with these kinds of requests will cost money, but Google and other search companies already perform similar operations.

"For example, in the matter of copyright infringement, they routinely take down YouTube videos. They don't like the burden of having to do it, but if you're going to offer videos, you've got to," said Rotenberg.

Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, who is on leave from her post while she campaigns for re-election to the European Parliament, said, "Today's court judgment is a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans." The comments were posted on Reding's Facebook page.

Ruth Collard, an expert on media law at London-based legal firm Carter Ruck, said, "the ruling might have particular relevance to young people, who find that something embarrassing posted in their school or student days has continuing repercussions as they grow older."

"Any company that indexes or aggregates information, any company that provides chat rooms or discussion services or review sites — they should be having discussions today about how they might implement scrubbing services if they get one of these 'take down' notices," Hughes said.

The court did not set up exact requirements for how this must take place. What it's going to look like still remains unclear.

Some find its breadth disturbing.

"The decision is staggering," said Fred Cate, who directs the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

It gives Europeans the right to demand removal of a link even if it is an "accurate publications of newsworthy events," that is "true, concerns a matter of public interest, and does not otherwise violate any national law," he said.

Fordham law professor Joel Reidenberg, an expert on information law and privacy, says a U.S. court would likely treat search results differently, citing a section of the Telecommunications Act that would give a company such as Google immunity from being responsible for content on their service.

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