Participation of the Agency in international fora: The Council of Europe

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has an intense international activity focused especially on the European Union and the bodies in which it has the legal obligation to participate, such as the European Data Protection Board.

Council of Europe

Crédit:© Council of Europe by Alban Hefti

This post is the first in a series of articles in which we will detail the AEPD’s participation in other international forums in which data protection also plays an important role. We will briefly explain how the forum works and detail the main activities in which the AEPD is involved, starting with the one that has been working for European integration for the longest time:

The Council of Europe
Since its creation in 1949 by the Treaty of London, the Council of Europe has aimed to "Promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe and in the world". It is an international body composed of 46 member states from the European geographical area.

It is governed by a Committee of Ministers and has a Parliamentary Assembly and a General Secretariat. The European Court of Human Rights is part of its structure. It is based in Strasbourg, France, and its flag was adopted by the European Union's predecessor body in 1985. To distinguish them, the Council of Europe has included a large white letter "e".

Some of the most important and influential conventions relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law have been drawn up within the Council of Europe. The AEPD participates in several of them, one of which relates to the protection of personal data: Convention 108.

Convention 108
28 January is European Data Protection Day. This day commemorates the opening for signature, in 1981, of the 108th Convention of the Council of Europe, which aims to protect individuals with regard to the automatic processing of personal data. To date, 55 countries have ratified this convention, which is open to countries that are not members of the Council of Europe, such as Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay.

It is the first binding international treaty that protects individuals from abuses that can be committed through the processing and collection of personal data, while regulating the flow of this data between the signatory countries.

A modernized version of this convention was adopted in 2018 and renamed "Convention 108+". This update of the convention will enter into force when 38 countries have ratified it. Spain ratified it on 28 January 2021 and you can follow the ratification procedure here

The members of Convention 108 meet in the Consultative Committee, which is identified in the Council of Europe as the T-PD. It holds its plenary sessions twice a year in Strasbourg. This Committee is governed by a "Bureau", composed of 8 members elected by vote. One of the members of the Bureau is an employee of the AEPD.

Budapest Convention
The Convention on Cybercrime, adopted in Budapest in 2001, has become an indispensable tool for prosecuting cybercrime, obtaining electronic evidence and achieving international cooperation among all signatories. Like Convention 108, it is open to non-member countries of the Council of Europe and has been ratified by a total of 69 states.

The Octopus conference is related to this convention and takes place every two years. The AEPD usually sends a representative.

Convention on Artificial Intelligence
Following the outcome of the work of the Ad-hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI), the Council of Europe decided in 2022 to elaborate a Convention on Artificial Intelligence (CAI) to regulate at international level the governance of Artificial Intelligence systems. The group in charge of the CAI has been drafting, discussing and negotiating the content of this convention ever since. The AEPD, incorporated as a member of the Spanish delegation, has been actively involved in the negotiations from the very beginning.

The negotiations for this convention have lasted two years, partly due to the number of parties involved, including non-member states of the Council of Europe such as Canada, the United States, Japan, Israel and Mexico, as well as civil society organisations. By March 2024, a text has been finalised and will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for adoption at its 75th anniversary plenary meeting.