Colombian Privacy Matters: 2016 Havana Peace Accord, Privacy Law, and Presidential Elections

With the upcoming elections in Colombia, one of many that will surely shape the future of the region in coming years, the Peace Accord signed in Havana has been a bone of contention. However, one aspect of this has not been discussed during the campaigns at all: the impact of new privacy laws. Specifically, how will the current development of privacy law in Colombia be applied to protect former FARC members?

As emerging privacy laws are debated before the Colombian Constitutional Court in parallel with the implementation of the historic 2016 Havana Peace Accord, there is potential tension between both events. Society will have to give thoughtful consideration to the legal implications of newly created electronic records identifying former fighters during their reinsertion to civil society. At the same time, it will have to apply the holding in a landmark privacy case against Google that allows individuals to exert greater control over information about them that is posted online. Both rely on the concept of privacy as a main underpinning of peaceful society.

The Colombian peace process is unfolding on a global stage as other international actors look to it for guidance on conflict resolution yet it is highly contentious domestically. Evidenced by the failed referendum in October 2016, where voters marginally rejected the first peace accord, Colombians continue to rebuff governmental efforts to bring former fighters into the fold of civil society, preferring they remain branded as terrorists. Parallel to this historic event, privacy law in Colombia took center stage because of litigation against Google in 2017 by a small business owner. The Colombian Constitutional court’s opinion shows that the Colombian judiciary follows European jurisprudence and strongly protects the individual right to honor and a good name, all housed within the overarching right to privacy.

Both the Peace Accord and the Google decision tend towards the theoretical and not the practical implications of their conclusions. The accord does not provide specific implementation processes, nor does the court opinion describe how a foreign corporation would adhere to its holding. However, the Court emphasized the relationship between the right to privacy and social peace. By extension, the proper implementation of privacy protocols will prove crucial to spur the civic engagement and political participation needed to achieve lasting peace. As the first to be implemented against a dynamic and changing privacy landscape, the Colombian Peace Accord will be historic in more ways than one.

As these are still developing arcs, this will be an area to watch as organizations implement the peace accord across vulnerable communities at a time when public opinion is divided and a new presidential administration will be finding its footing. The accord describes how the government will facilitate the reinsertion of former FARC fighters into civil society through programs that promote political participation, economic inclusion, and the reduction of social stigma. This tense integration could create a perfect storm for the misuse of electronic records identifying individuals who until recently were considered the enemy. Given the political climate, independent of whether the far-right or the far-left candidate wins, it will be difficult to honor and reconcile the importance of privacy with politics. Independent of the outcome, Colombia will provide a framework for understanding the privacy implications of post-conflict integration for other countries.