Habeas Data and the Protection of Personal Information

August 26, 2013

Data privacyCountries around the world are applying a range of legal measures to provide individuals with the ability to protect the privacy and integrity of their personal information.  One approach which is particularly popular in Latin America involves use of the concept of “Habeas Data.”

Habeas Data is a legal action in which individual citizens ask a court to issue an order to stop abuse of personal data.  Data abuse can involve actions that undermine the confidentiality of personal data.  Failure to protect adequately the accuracy of personal information is another form of data abuse.  Additionally, individuals can invoke Habeas Data in order to seek deletion of personal data.

An individual citizen who believes that the privacy or integrity of his or her personal information has been in some way compromised by the actions of another party can ask the appropriate court to issue a Habeas Data order.  In this way, individuals can compel other parties to protect, correct, or remove their personal data, as appropriate.

The basis for Habeas Data actions is generally either the constitution or a specific statute authorizing courts to address these requests.  Many of the nations that apply the principle of Habeas Data have also implemented other statutory and regulatory mechanisms to protect personal privacy.

Habeas Data is recognized in several Latin American countries, including: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, and Ecuador.  In each of those nations, Habeas Data is an important component of the overall legal framework for information privacy.

It is believed that the concept of Habeas Data was first applied in Europe.  Many of the principles at the heart of Habeas Data are now integrated into the European Data Protection Directive which provides comprehensive information privacy protection for European citizens.

Habeas Data provides a useful legal tool in support of the protection of personal privacy.  It is particularly valuable when combined with other statutory and regulatory measures designed to preserve the security and integrity of personal data, in all forms.

The United States could learn important lessons with regard to the effective protection of personal information from the actions of other countries.  The European Union provides an excellent model for privacy protection.  A growing number of other nations around the world, including Argentina, are following the European lead with respect to personal privacy.  It is time for the United States to enact comprehensive legislation providing adequate legal protection to the full range of personal information.