The European Courts of Justice ruled this week that an individual can request that “irrelevant or outdated” information be deleted from search engine results.

The Internet’s power to distribute information threatens fundamental privacy rights, the court said. It does not affect what info shows up on individual websites.

Representatives for Google said in a statement, “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We now need to take time to analyze the implications.”

Critics argue that this ruling will lead to censorship, possibly even in the United States. On Shepard Smith Reporting, Judge Andrew Napolitano said that the U.S.’s freedom of speech will trump Europe’s “right to be forgotten.”

Hear the rest of Judge Napolitano's analysis in the clip above, and read more about the ruling from The Wall Street Journal below.

Under Tuesday's ruling—which doesn't trigger any specific new enforcement, but sets a strong legal precedent across the European Union—individuals can request that search engines remove links to news articles, court judgments and other documents in search results for their name. National authorities can force the search engines to comply if they judge there isn't a sufficient public interest in the information, the court ruled.

The European Court of Justice's decision represents the strongest legal backing of what is often called the "right to be forgotten," a concept born out of 19th-century French and German legal protections that once permitted honor-based dueling—but remains unfamiliar to most Americans.

Proponents of the "right to be forgotten" argue that individuals should be able to force the removal from the Internet of information that is old or irrelevant, and could be deemed to infringe on their right to privacy. Detractors say that the ruling could lead to a massive wave of takedown requests that would swamp companies and privacy regulators with legal costs, while whitewashing the public record.

The decision "makes grim reading for Google and will delight privacy advocates in the EU," said Richard Cumbley, information-management and data-protection partner at U.K. law firm Linklaters.

The ruling was a surprise. The decision contradicted a previous opinion by one of the court's own advocates general, or senior legal advisers. That opinion, issued last year, argued that search engines like Google shouldn't be responsible for personal data that they turn up when crawling the Web for information. That move was seen at the time as a victory for Google.

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