MPs: Search engines need to act now on web screening to avoid legislation

A Parliamentary Committee looking at the balance between privacy and freedom of expression recommends that the law must apply equally to all forms of media: print, broadcast and online.

MPs say that material that infringes individuals’ privacy online should not be so difficult to remove from Internet searches. MPs recommend that ‘major corporations, such as Google, take practical steps to limit the potential for breaches of court orders through use of their products and, if they fail to do so, legislation should be introduced to force them to’.

Google says that technology to proactively monitor websites for such material could be developed. However, it said in a statement: "Requiring search engines to screen the content of their web pages would be like asking phone companies to listen in on every call made across their networks for potentially suspicious activity.”

"Google already removes specific pages deemed unlawful by the courts. We have a number of simple tools anyone can use to report such content, which we then remove from our index."

The MPs also studied damages for privacy breaches. They say that while damages for breaches are never as good as preventing the breach in the first place, the maximum level of damages that has been awarded is too low to act as a real deterrent. Courts should have the power to award exemplary damages in privacy cases.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons Joint Committee Report 'Privacy and Injunctions' was published on 27 March.