Tuesday 6 December 2016

Politician brings landmark 'right to be forgotten' case against Google after being branded homophobe online

Saurya Cherfi

Published 04/05/2016 | 16:59

Mark Savage: Google refused request to take down content
Mark Savage: Google refused request to take down content

A politician, in the first “right to be forgotten” case in an Irish court, claimed today he had been branded in a similar category as members of Isis on a website.

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Mark Savage told a judge he had been branded a homophobic on the web after a stance he adopted in a local election.  He has challenged the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision that his privacy had not been breached.

Savage, of Lios Cian, Swords, Co Dublin, is asking the Circuit Civil Court to quash the Commissioner’s decision.  He claims that when he entered his name on Google, the first result stated Mark Savage, North County Dublin’s homophobic candidate.

“Being branded a homophobic means I’m in the same category as Isis who throw gay people to their death from the top of buildings,” Mr Savage said.

“I feel I’m being victimised and pathologized as a homophobic for having an imposing opinion,” he said.

Mr Savage told Judge Elma Sheahan that when he stood as a candidate in a local election two years ago he had highlighted as one of his election issues the use of Donabate beach by “perverted gay men” for alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour in broad daylight and in front of children.

He said a number of defamatory remarks had afterwards been maliciously published by a number of people on a website to “deliberately mark me out as a homophobic which I am not.”

The court heard Savage had been refused a Google take-down request in relation to the postings. He had appealed Google’s refusal to Commissioner Helen Dixon.

Paul Anthony McDermott SC, for the commissioner, said Ms Dixon had decided that the comments expressed an opinion and not a fact in a context of a political election.  She stated that in this case the public interest and freedom of expression vastly outweighed the right to privacy.

Mr McDermott said the website was a bulletin board, and people had been engaged with loose talk, some making abusive comments or using coarse language.

Cian Ferriter SC, for Google Ireland Ltd, said Mr Savage was seeking to have the link to the website page removed from the Google search results page.

Mr Ferriter, who appeared with barrister Bairbre O’Neill, said the data protection regime was not concerned with matters of opinion and could not be expected to investigate them.

He told the court it would be a very dangerous precedent if the likes of Google were put in a position of resolving disputes between people.

The court heard that Mr Savage had thrown himself into a public debate.  Mr Ferriter said his decision to run for election and the contents of his manifesto had been an invitation for public comment.

Savage, who represented himself, said Google had been outspokenly in favour of gay issues and the link to the webpage in question, reddit.com, had remained at the top of the searches despite more recent publicity and news reports about him.

He claimed the homophobic comments were not an opinion but a statement of fact which was inaccurate and therefore the Commissioner had erred in her decision.  The judge reserved her decision.

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