AMSTERDAM - Europe's highest court Tuesday gave people the means to scrub their reputations online, issuing a landmark ruling that experts say could force Google and other search engines to delete references to old debts, long-ago arrests and other unflattering episodes.
Embracing what has come to be called "the right to be forgotten," the Court of Justice of the European Union said people should have some say over what information comes up when someone Googles them.
The decision was celebrated by some as a victory for privacy rights in an age when just about everything - good or bad - leaves a permanent electronic trace. Others warned it could interfere with the celebrated free flow of information online and lead to censorship.
The ruling stemmed from a case out of Spain involving Google, but it applies to the entire 28-nation bloc of over 500 million people and all search engines in Europe, including Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing.
It has no immediate effect on the way Google and other search engines display their results in the U.S. or other countries outside Europe.
"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," the Mountain View, California, company said in a statement.