Data protection in Latin America - Convention 108+

06 May 2021 | Yamel Sarquis and Pablo Marzocca

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Yamel Sarquis and Pablo Marzocca

Blog Author | Guest contributor

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Access Partnership's Yamel Sarquis (right) and Pablo Marzocca (left) explain Convention 108+ and its impact across key Latam markets

Signed in 1981, Convention 108 is a legally binding data protection treaty endorsed by 47 European countries and eight non-European nations, including Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay. Revamped as Convention 108+ to adhere to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2016, the updated treaty addresses a rising wave of privacy challenges posed by digital and emerging technologies, international data flows and social media platforms.

With data protection debates picking up steam in Latin America, the importance of Convention 108+ to protect individual privacy rights in cross-border data flows is more salient than ever. Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay have already ratified the updated treaty; Costa Rica and Colombia are advocating at a national level to join.

Latam trailblazers: Argentina, Mexico And Uruguay

January 2021 marked the 40th Anniversary of the Data Protection Convention 108 in Latin America, which convened key stakeholders to discuss the latest developments and challenges around data transfers and privacy. A regional trendsetter in privacy, Argentina, is one of the countries already set to approve Convention 108+. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, legislators have acknowledged the need to promote international cooperation by establishing data protection standards that balance privacy and knowledge-sharing. To this end, Argentina’s Personal Data Protection Law (Law 25.326) of 2000 will be amended, setting a precedent that will influence regional discussions.

Mexico is also in the process of adopting the treaty. According to representatives from the Mexican National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Data Protection (INAI), authorities are devising a route to fast track the legislative approval of Convention 108+. Seeking to emphasise its commitment to the issue, Mexico will also host the 43rd Global Privacy Assembly in October 2021. Uruguay was the first Latin American country to endorse the Convention, amending Law 18.331 on the Protection of Personal Data and the Habeas Data Action, and its Congress will soon ratify Convention 108+.

Convention 108+: key takeaways

The debate around ensuring data protection traces back to the inclement use of data flows in the global economy. On the one hand, individual data and privacy must be guaranteed. On the other, an open data market is essential to fostering economic growth. However, the protection of personal data should not be at odds with the seamless flow of data. Convention 108+ debunks this argument by making both ends meet, building a “common core” that harmonises laws across signatory states. As the only legally binding treaty that any country in the world can join, Convention 108+ is designed to encourage take-up by non-European countries, promoting the EU’s data privacy values in the international arena. Simultaneously, the accord’s compatibility with GDPR will automatically lead to data protection levels that meet GDPR standards, raising the regional data protection standards in Latin America.

Looking forward

The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably accelerated data protection discussions, creating new markets which legislators are battling to regulate. Convention 108+ plays a frontand- centre role because it serves as a regional platform bringing together governments, companies, academia, civil liberties groups and international organisations to create harmonised regulation that promotes data transfers without compromising privacy.