TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal service, connects high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams to provide them with free legal assistance.
This project was nominated for the TrustLaw Collaboration Award, which recognises highly effective working relationships between legal teams, NGOs and social enterprises that have dramatically increased the potential impact of projects as a result.
The free flow of information and ideas lie at the heart of democracy. Critical to both promoting human rights and advancing media freedom, freedom of information is also fundamental to the rule of law, and an important instrument to fight corruption.
Ecuador, which ranks 93 on the Transparency International's 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, is a nation which battles with corruption and struggles with good governance. "Now more than ever, freedom of information is crucial for this Latin American country in a globalised world with ever-advancing technology,” said Alejandra Hoschoian, Legal Manager for Latin America at TrustLaw.
In 2019, Ecuador faced a massive data breach which saw the personal data of up to 20 million people, more than the country’s population, made available online. Although Ecuador adopted a law on ‘access to information’ in 2004, ‘La Ley Orgánica de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública de Ecuador’, civil society organisations believe that the law is now outdated as it doesn’t reflect the new challenges posed by the digitalisation of Ecuador.
“The legal safeguards needed to be strengthened,” said César Ricaurte, President of Fundamedios, a non-profit committed to promoting and protecting freedom of expression in Latin America. "The current law, is now 16 years old, when most documentation at that time was physical and not digital. There is a lack of transparency in information management in the country which does not respond to the law or the Constitution," he added.
Fundamedios contacted TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, for legal support in compiling a review of ‘access to public information’ best practices across the region. TrustLaw connected Fundamedios to Ferrere Abogados, a Latin American law firm with offices in Ecuador, as well as law firms Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría, Ritch, Mueller, Heather y Nicolau, S.C., KLA - Koury Lopes Advogados and Obrador Digital SpA. Ferrere coordinated with the five law firms across Latin America to compile local, regional and international practices and share ideas for a new law. The research, alongside input from key experts, was used to inform a new bill presented at the National Assembly for consideration.
“This was an unforgettable professional experience; it helped me appreciate the importance of access to public information and how different countries in the region handle it. Personally, it gave me skills related to optimising teamwork by focusing on the strengths of the collaborators and feeling the sense of accomplishment of being part of the change,” said Diego Andrés Corral Coronel, Associate, Ferrere.
In June 2021, Ecuador’s new data protection regulation “the Law on Personal Data Protection” came into force. This new regulation is the country’s first dedicated data protection law and establishes a national data protection authority, regulates cross-border data transfers, and provides citizens with the rights including the right to request access to, amend and delete their personal data. Fundamedios, along with other civil society organisations created a Monitoring Group to track the enforcement of the law.