Last Updated: Monday, 30 November 2015, 08:01 GMT

Panama: Databases containing personal information on citizens; whether the information can be used by governments or the public to locate individuals

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 11 August 2009
Citation / Document Symbol PAN103165.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Panama: Databases containing personal information on citizens; whether the information can be used by governments or the public to locate individuals, 11 August 2009, PAN103165.FE, available at: [accessed 30 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In Panama, the personal identity card (cédula de identidad personal) is [translation] "the official document certifying the personal identity of the cardholder" (Panama n.d.a). In correspondence sent to the Research Directorate on 20 May 2009, a human rights officer (oficial de derechos humanos) with the office of the Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo) of Panama stated that personal identity cards are issued by the National Identity Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Cedulación), which is part of the Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral, TE). The TE [translation] "is the electoral body responsible for the quality of the electoral process and voting, that is, the civil registry, the census and the issuance of identity cards" (Venezuela 30 Oct. 2007).

According to the website of the Elections Branch, the following information appears on personal identity cards:


number of the personal identity card; full name and name normally used, as recorded in the civil registry; sex; date of birth recorded in the civil registry; place of birth; signature of cardholder (if the cardholder is unable to write, a witness may sign on his or her behalf); a facsimile of the signature of the Director General [of the National Identity Branch]; a colour photograph of the cardholder; a statement that the cardholder is or is not Panamanian (nacional o extranjero) and the issuance and expiry dates. (Panama n.d.a)

In a 4 June 2009 telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Human Rights Officer stated that the database of the Elections Branch (base de imágenes) contains a copy of every personal identity card issued and that, in his opinion, the data in the database [translation] "are very well protected" (Panama 4 June 2009). He also stated that the general public does not have access to the data in the database (ibid.) and that the database is limited to specific organizations, such as banks and insurance companies (ibid. 20 May 2009). He added that these organizations can verify the information in the database only if the information is personal information about the applicant and the applicant is one of their members (ibid. 4 June 2009).

In a 7 July 2009 telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a secretary in the general secretariat of the Elections Branch stated that [translation] "Elections Branch data are highly confidential, and the only way of obtaining personal information about a third party is to present a court order" to the authorities concerned.

In 2000, the Elections Branch provided companies and government agencies with an identity verification service (Servicio de Verificación de Identidad, SVI) that is accessible by the Internet (Panama n.d.b). The service makes it possible to [translation] "verify the identity of persons and the authenticity of personal identity cards by comparing their information with the information in the civil registry database [Base de Datos del Registro Civil y Cedulación]" (ibid.). Searches are done using the number on the cardholder's personal identity card or by first letter and provide access to the cardholder's name, identity card number, date and place of birth and parents' names (ibid.). In addition, the cardholder's signature, photograph and identity card number can now be verified, according to the secretary (Panama 7 July 2009). However, Article 5 of Order 28 of 25 October 2006, which is the latest amendment of Order 10 of 17 February 1998, prohibits the use of SVI data for personal purposes and public reproduction of a cardholder's photograph without the cardholder's permission (Panama 25 Oct. 2006).

To access the civil registry database, businesses and government agencies must legally register with the applicable section (Sala de Acuerdos) of the Elections Branch (Panama 7 July 2009; see also Panama n.d.b; Panama 25 Oct. 2006). Once their registration is complete, they receive a private access code that allows them to access the SVI (Panama 7 July 2009). Access to the database is not free, however; fees must be paid based on the amount of information obtained (Panama 20 May 2009; Panama n.d.b).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Panama. 7 July 2009. Electoral Tribunal (ET). Telephone interview with a secretary in the general secretariat.
_____. 4 June 2009. Defensoría del Pueblo. Telephone interview with a human rights officer.
_____. 20 May 2009. Defensoría del Pueblo. Correspondence from a human rights officer.
_____. N.d.a. Electoral Tribunal (ET). "Cedulación." [Accessed: 5 June 2009]
_____. N.d.b. Electoral Tribunal (ET). "Servicios de la Institución: Servicio de Verificación de Identidad." [Accessed: 5 June 2009]
_____. 25 October 2006. Decreto 28 de 25 de octubre de 2006. [Accessed: 7 Aug. 2009]

Venezuela. 30 October 2007. Tribunal Supremo de Justicia. "Tribunal Electoral de Panamá tiene las garantías para desarrollar un proceso electoral democrático." [Accessed: 29 July 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Publications: Panama – Código Penal; Panama – Ley No. 18.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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