The European Union Court of Justice has ruled in favour of the "right to be forgotten" in a case brought against search giant Google.
The case was brought by a Spanish man who claimed that an auction notice of his repossessed home returned by a Google search was an infringement on his privacy.
The EU court ruled that people had the right to request information be removed from web pages if it appeared to be "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".
The ruling, though, will raise fears that search companies will be intimidated with legal action into removing search results in the same way that fraudsters such as Robert Maxwell used English libel law to keep a lid on his criminal activities.
Google described the ruling as "disappointing". It had argued that the Spanish man's demands amounted to censorship. It had won earlier rounds in the legal battle and may respond by removing its search data offshore, away from the jurisdiction of the EU courts.
European Commissioner Viviane Reding, however, called it "a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans". She added: "The ruling confirms the need to bring today's data protection rules from the 'digital stone age' into today's modern computing world."
The judgment could also have consequences for anyone publishing material online about other people, not just search engines. However, the so-called right to be forgotten does not necessarily extend to privately held data about individuals.