COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 24 (En Español)
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global public health emergency on January 30, 2020. Subsequently, international organizations developed a series of recommendations related to the pandemic which helped countries throughout the world to guarantee the right to health as well as economic, cultural, environmental, social, civil and political rights.
Specifically, the United Nations (UN) promoted guidelines related to access to information and safety partnership. This guidance highlighted the importance of divulging accurate information to avoid discrmination and xenophobia among the population as a result of misinformation and fear.
In the case of Argentina, on March 19, the Executive Power established the Preventive and Obligatory Social Isolation (or Aislamiento Social Preventivo y Obligatorio, ASPO, in Spanish) and its complementary norms through decree no. 297. Taking into account recommendations from international organizations related to access to information, the Executive Power adopted a series of measures to maintain the Argentinian society fully informed. These measures were enacted in order to protect the right to privacy and personal data, especially personal information related to medical studies pursued during the pandemic, respect to freedom of expression and the right to access to public information.
In this report, we will enumerate succinctly the different measures enacted in Argentina in order to secure access to public information and health information more specifically as well as the role of general and law libraries in this process.
Measures related to health information
- Decree no. 260/2020 established that the Ministry of Health will compile daily information about the affected zones and the epidemiological situation related to contagion, contention and mitigation of COVID-19 while at the same time safeguarding the confidentiality of the people affected as well as complying with regulation for the protection of professional secrecy.
- Resolution no. 568/2020 from the MInistry of Health regulated the previous decree no. 260. This resolution determined that the obligatory measures and recommendations from different areas of the Ministry of Health related to the COVID-19 emergency situation will be disseminated through its main website.
Since March 30, this last resolution prompted the creation of two daily reports, one in the morning and a second one in the afternoon. These reports are disseminated in all media outlets and published in the official website Argentina.gob Daily Reports, where individuals can download them as well.
Measures Concerning Access to Public Information
Through resolution no. 70/2020, the Agency of Access to Public Information (Agencia del Acceso a la Información Pública, AAIP, in Spanish) exempted itself from the suspension of administratives processes mandated under the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (298/20) and its following extensions. The exemptions included specifically the law no. 27275 on the right to access to public information and law no. 25326 on the protection of personal data.
With this resolution, the suspension of the Argentine government’s administrative procedures due to the pandemic did not include the right to access to public information and the protection of personal data.
The AAIP dictated such a resolution by taking special consideration that the suspension of requests to public information or to safeguard the protection of personal data could in practice empty the content of those fundamental human rights. The Agency does not forget its mandate to guarantee the right to access to public information and to promote active transparency, especially in times of a major crisis.
In the context of COVID-19, the Agency published the following three informative guides:
- Guide for the treatment of personal data when taking temperatures: One of the first preventive measures taken all across Argentina in order to re-enter public or private spaces was to take the temperatures to all people. This guide was created with the objective of facilitating the correct management of personal data when taking the temperature and to inform people which are their rights in this scenario.
- Guide for the treatment of personal data in times of COVID-19: This guide refers to the special care needed when treating and managing health information and it relates to existing legislation and issues with privacy rights.
- Guide for the treatment of personal data when using geolocalization tools: This guide highlights the fundamental principles in existing regulation in terms of protecting personal data when using geolocalization and tracking tools, be it in the public, private or both sectors in collaboration.
The last two guides take into consideration both law no. 25326 to protect personal data as well as the Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data, approved in Argentina with law no. 27483.
Recommendation from the National Entity for Communications (Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones, ENACOM in Spanish)
In multiple occasions, TV stations were covering with text or logos the space where sign language was being presented. Due to these incidents, the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Nation and the National Disability Agency took steps with ENACOM in order not to violate the right of people with hearing impairments to utilize sign language provided on TV to access vital information.
Within the framework of article 66 of law no. 26522 and through official communication, ENACOM asked TV stations to respect in their programming that special space on TV screens dedicated to sign language.
Access to information and law libraries in Argentina
The term “libraries” was first mentioned in the national legislation related to COVID-19 within the decree no. 408/2020. In this decree, it was mentioned that libraries could not be considered exempt from complying with the Preventive and Obligatory Social Isolation plan (Aislamiento Social Preventivo y Obligatorio, ASPO in Spanish).
Decree no. 459/2020 mentioned “libraries” as one of the activities forbidden throughout the Argentine territory during the emergency at the same level with museums, cultural centers, malls, restaurants, bars, gyms and clubs. This was ratified in decree no. 520/20 and the following ones.
In Argentina, there were no guidelines compiled for library services during the pandemic, nor general protocols for reopening at the national level, despite the persisting uncertainties. Some provincial library associations or individual libraries redacted their own protocols. These can be consulted in the website, Reclaria – Red de Redes de Información.
In the case of law libraries, most of them had to abide by the protocols from the main institutions they belong to (international organizations, executive power, legislative or judicial, public or private universities, professional colleges, judicial studies, etc.). Law libraries with existing digital services reinforce them and continue expanding it. Those who did not have digital services had to adapt.
With the purpose of disseminating the work that took place, the Network of Law Libraries and Judicial Sciences (Red de Bibliotecas de Derecho y Ciencias Jurídicas – BibliotecasJuriRed, in Spanish) and the Civil Association of Law Librarians (Asociación Civil de Bibliotecarios Jurídicos, in Spanish) conducted together a Survey of Law Libraries in Times of COVID-19. In this survey, we enumerated all the services law libraries provided throughout the country limited by the ASPO and the Preventive and Obligatory Social Distancing plan.