The POPI Act is law - Where to from here?

Content provided by IACT Africa, specialist business consulting company with a focus on assisting organisations to add strategic value to IT Governance and IT Management.

Acknowledgement: this is an edited version of the article “ THE PROTECTION OF PERSONAL INFORMATION ACT IS LAW: WHERE TO FROM HERE?” by Dr Peter Tobin, Mr John Cato and Prof David Taylor which was published in partnership with CGF Research Institute (Pty) Ltd in May 2014.

Do you remember the old story about how to get things moving? That’s right, the one about the stick and the carrot! Well now we have something new to focus our attention on: Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act No.4 of 2013 (POPI Act).

So where is the “stick and carrot” for POPI?

Think about how broad the definition of “personal information” can be: customers, employees, suppliers, in fact anyone we interact with as a business.  The POPI Act was signed into law in November 2013 and is expected to become effective in 2016.  Organisations will then have twelve months to become fully compliant or face the prospect of some potentially stiff penalties (including fines of up to R10 million) or worse reputational damage and loss of customers. That’s the “stick” part of the deal.

The “carrot” aspect is the opportunity to boost confidence in your business by demonstrating the way you manage sensitive personal data. Personal information includes data of customers, suppliers and employees, whether they are in emails, invoices, databases or printouts. This means showing you have processes and procedures in place to handle effectively and securely all aspects of what’s covered in the POPI Act.

Where does POPI come from?

Privacy and Data Protection Acts have already existed in other countries for several years. Examples of these are the European Union (EU) Data Protection Act which came into effect in 1995, the UK Data Protection Act (1998). The POPI Act is modelled on the EU legislation to a large extent, and POPI has been written to ensure that South Africa is line with international best practice.

Conditions for lawful processing of personal information in the POPI Act

  • Accountability = assigning ownership in your business;
  • Processing Limitation = processing information for lawful reasons and in a manner that does not infringe privacy;
  • Purpose Specification =only obtaining and holding personal information for a specific purpose;
  • Further Processing Limitation = Further processing of personal information must be compatible with the purpose for which it was collected;
  • Information Quality = ensuring that information is complete and accurate;
  • Openness = informing individuals that their information has been obtained and the purpose thereof;
  • Security safeguards = the integrity of personal information must be secured using reasonable technical and organisational measures;
  • Data Subject Participation = an individual has the right to request whether an organisation holds their personal information. An individual may request the information is deleted or corrected if it is incorrectly stored.

What does POPI mean to you and your stakeholders?

  • Personal information such as employee and customer information will have to be protected and processed in a different way, in accordance with the conditions of the law;
  • Employee and customer information may not be disclosed to another party without the person’s consent;
  • Employee and customer information will have to be destroyed in a controlled manner when the purpose for which the information is held is no longer valid;
  • Standards will have to be defined for shredding equipment similar to standards in other countries so that the new law can be applied to these in an appropriate manner;
  • Steps should be taken to ensure that personal information stored on removable media such as memory sticks is protected in a controlled manner and consideration should be given to providing advice to consumers in the area.
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