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Panama: Personal Data Protection

Recently enacted a special law to regulate and establish personal data protection.  Additionally, the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, as well as other legal instruments, also provide protection for the personal data of natural and legal persons.

The importance of access to personal data is recognized more every day as a necessary right of each individual, indispensable to guarantee transparency in all acts of government.  Taking this into consideration, Law No. 6 was issued by the Legislative Assembly last January 22, 2002.

The institution of the Habeas Data , the constitutional guarantee to provide the right of privacy for technological information has been now incorporated into our legislation.  Until now other institutions such as the habeas corpus (which refers to a violation of the physical person) were regulated and frequently utilized to prevent the violation of the liberty of individuals.

Law

On September 3, 2001, the bill of law to formally create the legal action of the Habeas Data was presented before the General Secretariat of the Legislative Assembly.  This bill was enacted as law of the Republic as Law No. 6 of January 22, 2002 and published in the Official Gazette No. 24,476 of January 23, 2002. 

The main objective of this law is to recognize the right that all persons have to know and have access to all registers, files or public data banks, with respect to information or data that has been accumulated regarding themselves.  The recognition of this right allows for disclosure of the reason why such information is collected, as well as for correction, update, confidentiality or suppression of the information which is requested, as such may be the case.  It is recognized to all persons the right to access to the public information that contains a general interest, without it being necessary to provide a special cause.

This law is a simple one, which provides a procedure to be followed similar to that in force for Constitutional Guarantee Actions, whereby the party requesting the information may file before the competent court a petition for the public servant denying the information, or not providing it in full, to fulfill his/her obligation to provide the same according to individual right of the petitioner.

The only restrictions that apply for not providing the requested information are for situations of national security or for the preservation of public order.  Nevertheless, these restrictions are not permanent.

Other Panamanian legislation in connection with the right of privacy can be found in the following legal documents:

Political Constitution

The Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama contemplates the right of privacy in several of its provisions. 

The Constitution provides that the State has the obligation to protect the honor of the individual, that is, the private life of the individual, preventing that third parties interfere in the same.

Article 17: The authorities of the Republic are established to protect the life, honor and goods of its nationals, wherever these may be, as well as the foreigners that are under its jurisdiction; to ensure the effectiveness of the individual and social rights and duties, and to fulfill and make fulfill the Constitution and the Law.â€Â  (The translation is ours.)

In this same manner, the domicile or residence and correspondence or mail of a national or foreigner living in the country is to be respected and may only be entered with the express authorization of its owner, as is provided by articles 26 and 29.

Article 26. The domicile or residence is inviolable.  No person can enter inside these without the consent of its owner, unless a written mandate of the corresponding authority and for specific means, or to help crime or disaster victims.

Work, social security, and public health servants may practice, previous identification, house visits or of inspection to the places of work with the object of foreseeing the fulfillment of the social and public health laws (The translation is ours).

Article 29: The correspondence and other private documents are inviolable and may not be occupied or examined only by disposition of the competent authority, for specific purposes and through legal formalities.  In any event, reservation shall be kept for matters different to the objective of the occupation or exam.

Likewise, private telephone communications are inviolable and may not be intercepted.  The registration of papers will be practiced always in the presence of the interested party or of a member of his family, or in his absence, of two honorable neighbors of the same place. (The translation is ours )

Family Code

The Family Code, of recent application in the Republic, contains the obligation of the State in providing the necessary protection for the intimacy and honor of the family, as well as the right to a self-image.  It is established in this Code that the State is responsible to protect and provide the mechanisms necessary to protect all persons and families.

This Code ratifies the norm that requests previous authorization for the revelation of information of the persons.

Other Codes

Other Codes, such as the Judicial Code, establish that personal information may only be shown to the interested party and prohibit the sharing of the same with other persons.

Conventions

The Republic of Panama has subscribed different International Conventions in connection with the "right of privacy", among which we can mention The International Pact for Civil and Political Rights, was approved in Panama by means of Law No. 14 of October 28, 1976.  It is established in this convention that even in judicial proceedings it is necessary to reserve certain information whose revelation may cause serious damages to the private life of a party.

Laws

Special laws provide special protection to the right of privacy, as may be noted, among others, by the following:

Law No. 26 of December 17, 1992.  This law protects the identity and information related to patients infected with the HIV virus.

Law No. 13 of July 27, 1994.  This law was enacted to provide the necessary legal modifications to increase the fight against the traffic and sale of drugs.  This law is restricted to the provisions of article 29 of the Constitution.  Thus, no recording of telephone conversations is permitted, because it would be in contrary violation of the constitutional norm.

Law No. 11 of January 22, 1998.  This law is the first example of legislation in connection with the regulation of information stored by electronic means.

Other laws, such as Law No. 56 for Public Contracting, the Organizational Statute of the Attorney General for the Administration's Office and the "Anticorruption Law", enacted last year, provide other such protection for these matters.

Conclusion

The Republic of Panama now has an existing personal data protection law whereby the right of privacy of individuals is protected.  With the enactment of this law which provides for the action of the Habeas Data , this right of every Panamanian citizen and resident is now formally regulated.  Additionally, other legal documents such as the Constitution, Criminal Code, and other national laws, and International Conventions also provide for support in this right of each individual, as these legal instruments are still in force.

Michelle Delgado

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