Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, people will now be allowed to request search engines to remove links to personal data and sensitive information about them under a new right to be forgotten.

The ruling was made in a case brought by Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who realised that a search for his name in Google Spain brought up links to newspaper articles about a sale of property 16 years ago that he was forced to make to pay off social security debts.

Mr Gonzalez has since resolved his debt issues and no longer wanted the details available to the general public online as this infringed his privacy.

He asked the newspaper to remove the article, but they replied that they could not since the article's publication had been effected by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Mr Gonzalez, along with the Spanish Data Protection Commissioner's Office (AEPD), took his complaint to Google and it went to court.

The ECJ ruled that individuals should have the right to request the removal of personal data if it appeared to be 'inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant'.

It said in a statement: "the [search] operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to Web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person's name".

A Google spokesperson said: "This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general."