The court declared that people have the right to request that search engines remove results which they feel violate their privacy, and that search engines must, in some cases, comply.
Mario Costeja González brought the case against Google Spain when the company refused to remove search results related to the repossession of his home back in 1998.
The court found in Gonzalez's favor, saying in a press release about their decision:
"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. Thus, if, following a search made on the basis of a person's name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results."
Google has long argued that it does not publish data, only index it, and that people who would like information deleted should contact the source webpage.
This ruling regards Google and other search engines like Yahoo and Bing as "data controllers" who are therefore responsible for handling data in a way that is consistent with EU data protection laws.
"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," Google said. "We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the advocate general's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications."
The decision will have widespread ramifications. Data Protection specialists say it means search engines can no longer be regarded legally as neutral parties. Critics have said it could lead to censorship, while proponents believe it's a step toward ensuring privacy.
Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said, "The ruling confirms the need to bring today's data protection rules from the 'digital stone age' into today's modern computing world."