By Florence Chafiol-Chaumont from August & Debouzy*

In a recommendation adopted on April 4, 2008, the Article 29 Working Group (gathering all European Union national authorities competent on matters concerning personal data, of which the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, is a member) detailed rules applicable to search engines. The Article 29 Working Group indicated that search engines are subject to regulation 95/46/EC relating to personal data protection, even if their corporate headquarters are located outside of the European Union. Consequently, search engines can only keep personal data collected in the course of their activity "for a period that does not exceed the time needed to accomplish the purpose for which they were collected and processed" (article 6 of the Loi Informatique et Libertés dated January 6, 1978). After that delay, search engines are compelled to destroy or "anonymise" that data.

This recent recommendation from the Article 29 Working Group has asserted that the conservation period of these data cannot exceed 6 months. According to the CNIL, "a search engine should not keep indefinitely the historical account of the requests made and of the websites consulted by a user. This account can reveal intimate information, such as conjugal problems or political opinions, through which one can deduce possible habits or a certain behaviour ".

The Article 29 Working Group also reminds search engines in these recommendations that people whose data are collected by their services must be informed of their rights, and also the purpose of the processing of their data and of the conditions under which they can exercise their rights to access and correct their data, and to oppose the processing of such data.

The question is now to determine how this obligation will be implemented by search engines and if the position of the Article 29 Working Group will evolve towards more flexibility in consideration of the business interests at stake.

*August & Debouzy, Nabarro and GSK Stockman & Kollegen have announced the entry of two new law firms into their international alliance. Italian firm Nunziante Magrone and Spanish firm Rodés & Sala have joined the network, which has covered England, France and Germany up until now. This alliance was set up by the English firm Nabarro and now counts over 800 lawyers based in the five countries.

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