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Going Digital: Privacy & Cybersecurity in Latin America

Date & Time

Aug. 3, 2021
11:00am – 12:00pm ET


As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday life in Latin America, the region saw a rapid increase in the adoption of digital services. In 2020, mobile data traffic increased by 25 percent and more than 50 million Latin Americans became online consumers for the first time. While this digital transformation has expanded access to financial, medical and educational services to people across the region, it has also increased privacy and cybersecurity concerns, driving the need for governments and companies to ensure adequate protections.

Latin America has long suffered from high levels of fraud, and the digital transition has created opportunities for phishing scams, malware and computer viruses. While Latin America is improving its approaches to both cybersecurity and privacy, experts continue to urge governments to play a greater role, including through education for businesses of all sizes, and with better coordination with the private sector and other governments in the region.

This program addressed how Latin American governments and private sector actors could better collaborate to protect digital privacy, improve cybersecurity and sustain the region’s digital transformation.

This event is part of the “Going Digital” series. To learn more, see our content below:

Latin America's Digital Divide: Overcoming Persistent Gaps

Uruguay’s Technology Sector and the Future of Fintech in Latin America

Going Digital: Latin America’s Digital Workforce

Going Digital: The Future of Digital Trade in Latin America

Getting Closer to Distance Learning: Online Education in Latin America

Selected Quotes

Dave Sloan

"On the green-yellow-red scale, the threat is somewhere above fuchsia. I mean, it’s extreme right now. And that’s not unique to Lat-Am, that’s worldwide. I think what we’re finding is that, first of all, these are motivated, well-resourced attackers, and they come in every flavor, from what we call “script-kiddies”, people who are able to download very powerful infiltration tools just off the internet for free, all the way up to well-funded, well-organized state actors, and everything in between. And we find them coming after everything. From small-dollar ransomware attacks all the way up to sophisticated, industrial, and state-sponsored espionage that is able to exfiltrate large amounts of citizen data, of privacy data, of health data, to the point where they’re actually compromising the ability of states to run."

"We’re seeing very much the tip of the iceberg of this problem, and it deserves all of the urgency and hyperventilation that it gets."

"Clarity is critical in establishing a successful business environment; businesses cannot thrive if they don’t know exactly what they’re complying with. So setting clear rules upfront is an absolute prerequisite. Now we can’t have paper tigers either, and we need that enforcement capability to be robust and to be consistent, and to be transparent. I think if we aspire to [have] even more than that, what we would love to see is to have it be collaborative rather than punitive. Because ultimately, the goal in privacy enforcement is not to bring wrongdoers to justice. The goal is to prevent consumers from further being exploited by these abusive processes. So the goal should always be to remediate rather than to try to punish."

Sylvia Constaín

"I think that’s what’s really important, that we recognize that securing our network is not enough. Payments take place in a full ecosystem that includes financial institutions, it includes other payment networks, it includes fintechs, it includes processors, it includes vendors, it includes merchants, and of course, it also includes the final consumer. So, it’s a huge ecosystem and every single one of the actors in this ecosystem—including, of course, regulators who are the ones who set the whole scene and that generate the rules in which the ecosystem lives—are fundamental in making sure that we have a secure network where people can trust that the transactions that they do are transactions that are safe, that are secure, that are easy."

"The fact is that COVID and the pandemic does bring also an opportunity. I would say that the immediate response with the pandemic was focused on maintaining this discontinuity, on mitigating the client impact and the impact on small and medium-sized businesses of what the pandemic brought. And now, I think that we have to shift as an ecosystem… we now have to think about risk strategies that promote payment security."

"The fact that there was such a large amount of government disbursements over the pandemic is an opportunity. Right now, which we probably didn’t have before, we have ways of reaching millions of citizens that maybe were difficult to reach before because […] we didn’t have a way to reach them. But thanks to the pandemic, we now do. We’ve been able to disperse payments through the digital ecosystem. We can use these tools to try and help, to promote, or to share all this information and all this content."

Miriam Wimmer

"It’s interesting to point out that between 2018 and 2020, Brazil in fact rose from position 70 of the Global Cybersecurity Index to position 18 globally, which is huge progress I think and reflects also our efforts in creating a more stable and more clear legal environment for this issue."

"I think that nowadays when we look at digital transformation policy, a key aspect is in fact building trust in the digital economy. So, we feel it’s not possible to promote an environment where there is innovation, where there are international data flows, if there is also no trust that this data will not be mishandled, that it will not be leaked without consent of the data subject or any other legal basis. So in Brazil when we began discussing our national digital transformation strategy, we very clearly put the issue of trust at the center of our strategy."

"Speaking from the perspective of our national [Data Protection Agency], what we have been doing is realizing that, since we don’t have an 800-pound gorilla, we need to establish cooperation mechanisms with other organizations who do. So we already have cooperation agreements with our national antitrust body, also with our National Secretariat for Consumer Relations, and with the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee."

This event is part of our five-part “Going Digital” series, hosted by the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program and co-sponsored by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). “Going Digital” features senior Latin American public officials and executives from leading technology companies addressing issues such as the region’s digital workforce, the expansion of financial technology and the future of remote education.

Hosted By

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Argentina Project

The Argentina Project is the premier institution for policy-relevant research on politics and economics in Argentina.   Read more

Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and US institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more

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