Simply put, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) sets conditions for what companies can do with information about their customers.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly on 11 September 2012, with amendments approved on 20 August 2013. It has to be signed by President Jacob Zuma before it becomes law.
How the POPI Bill Can Harm Your Business
Businesses will only have one year from the commencement date to comply or face significant consequences, including a R10 million fine or 10 years in jail. If your business processes personal information, then you must comply with POPI.
What is the Protection of Personal Information Act – POPI?
“The intention of the Protection of Personal Information Act is to bring South Africa in-line with international standards of protection of personal information and will radically change the way in which both government and business deal with individuals’ private information,” says Charles Stretch, MD of SMSPortal.
Related: 7 Legal Pitfalls You Need to Avoid
How POPI Will Affect The Data You Collect
POPI protects personal information by restricting how it can be collected and used by a company, organisation or person, and sets out eight principles:
The responsible party (those who process the personal information) must ensure that all of the Act’s principles and the measures are complied with.
2. Processing limitation:
Processing of information must be done lawfully and in a manner that does not infringe the privacy of the individual. Personal information can only be processed if the processing is adequate, relevant and not excessive, given the purpose for which it is to be used.
3. Purpose specification:
Personal information must only be collected for a specific purpose and the individuals must be aware of this. Records must not be kept for longer than necessary to achieve the purpose for which it was collected.
4. Further processing limitation:
Further processing of the information must be compatible with the purpose of collection.
5. Information quality:
The holder of the data must take reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is complete, accurate, not misleading and updated when necessary. All the while, taking into account the purpose for which the information was initially collected.
Steps are required to ensure that the data subject is aware of the personal information being collected and the purpose of collection.
7. Security safeguards:
The responsible party must secure the personal information under their possession/control. Should a security breach occur, the responsible party must notify the subject whose information is compromised.
8. Data subject participation:
The data subject can request whether an organisation holds their private information, and what information is held. They may also request the correction or deletion of information that is inaccurate, irrelevant, excessive, out of date, incomplete, misleading or obtained unlawfully.
POPI Will Make it Essential for Prospects and Customers to Agree to Receive Your Communication
Stretch points out, “Specifically relating to the running of SMS marketing campaigns, direct marketers cannot use personal information for direct marketing unless they have the consumer’s permission. In the case of a direct marketing organisation, they must have ‘opted in’.”
The consumer can “opt-in” in one of two ways:
1. Firstly, the consumer can give his or her explicit consent to receive direct marketing.
- This would ideally be obtained when the information is collected, but a direct marketer can also approach the consumer for consent later. If it does this, it can only approach the consumer once for consent.
- A direct marketer must get a consumer’s contact details in the first place to approach the consumer for consent. Unless these contact details were in the public domain, such as a telephone directory, merely obtaining the contact details could be an infringement of POPI.
- For example, if a direct marketer received a list of individuals and their contact details from a company that collects and sells marketing information, the data vendor would itself have infringed POPI by passing the list on to the direct marketer, even if the direct marketer never actually uses any of the information contained in the list. Unless the individual specifically consented to their information being passed on.
2. Secondly, if the consumer is a customer of the direct marketer (and not of anyone else) then the direct marketer can use their information for direct marketing ONLY if:
- The data was obtained in the context of the sale of a product or service, and
- The direct marketing will be in respect of the marketer’s OWN similar goods/services, and
- The consumer has been given a reasonable opportunity to object to receipt of direct marketing both when the data was first collected and on each occasion when direct marketing is made to the consumer.
POPI infringement: The Consequences Will be Harsh
POPI makes provision for enforcement notices to be served on those infringing the data protection principles or the direct marketing provisions of POPI. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is an offence, and on conviction may lead to a fine, up to 10 years in prison, or both.
Perhaps more seriously, says Stretch, if a data subject suffers any loss as a result of an infringement, the responsible person will be strictly liable for this loss. In other words, it does not matter if the responsible person was negligent, or acted intentionally in infringing POPI – if the infringement caused loss to the consumer, the responsible person is liable.
Further Reading on POPI
Read up on the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) sets conditions for what companies can do with information about their customers.
Can Your Words Be Used Against You?
Yes, they most certainly can. Here’s what the RICA Act has to say about recordings.
“This call may be recorded for quality control and records purposes…” Anyone who has been on hold with insurance companies would be familiar with these words — but what are the implications of a recorded conversation and when is it legal?
In essence, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act of 2002 (mercifully shortened to ‘RICA’) permits any person, who is a party to a conversation to record that conversation, provided that it is direct communication — which is defined as oral communication between two or more persons that occurs in the immediate presence of those persons.
Section 4 of the RICA Act governs this aspect of our monitoring law. What is unclear, however, is the degree to which this extends to legal persons, such as a company that monitors a call centre agent’s performance, for example.
Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements
Evidence in legal cases
While limited to direct communications and not covered by third party interception, such as an eavesdropper, the lesson here remains pretty stark — you could legally be recorded during any conversation you have.
The implications of this are significant — just ask former Springbok player Luke Watson, who had a conversation recorded during a function in 2008 that was subsequently leaked to the media.
Furthermore, with the widespread use of smartphones, together with applications freely available on the relevant app stores, designed to record cellphone calls, the likelihood of you being recorded — whether you know it or not, is ever increasing.
Beyond the moral or ethical ambiguity of this, the legal ramifications of what is recorded are more certain — the recording may be used against you as evidence in any criminal proceedings, or equally as possible, in civil proceedings where, for example, agreement to a contract or term thereof is in question, or in the insurance company’s case, whether or not to repudiate a claim based on the information you provide to them.
Related: Protect Your SME From PoPI
Know the business exception
Section 6 of the RICA Act contains a course of business exception that allows the interception of indirect communication:
- a) By means of which a transaction is entered into in the ordinary course of business
- b) Which relates to that business
- c) Which otherwise takes place in the course of that business.
While there has not, to my knowledge, been a reported case that deals with this aspect of the RICA Act, the implications regarding the use of this information to evidence the valid conclusion of a contract or as to the intentions of the parties to a contract are significant, particularly given that the scope is relatively broad, although limited.
The matter has, however, come before the Constitutional Court in the 1999 criminal case of S v Kidson, where the court held, per Justice Cameron, that unless a “reasonable expectation of privacy exists” it would be difficult to prevent the recording or interception falling within the ambit of the RICA Act.
Where to from here?
From both a commercial and criminal perspective, this should serve to remind us all of our wise grandmother’s words — if you have nothing nice to say, rather say nothing at all (especially because you never know whether you are being recorded).
Why You Shouldn’t Be Sweating The Fine Print
Signing a contract is a big deal, and you never want to sign anything you don’t fully understand.
While it is almost always a grudge purchase, ensuring that you have had a legal eye cast over a contract you intend to conclude means that you are protected, that you understand the nature of the obligations you are taking on and perhaps, an even better deal for you.
Given that legal agreements are an important aspect of commerce, we have distilled key points for you to consider, before engaging with external counsel. This will make the process more efficient and, hopefully, less expensive.
Reviewing a contract is a tricky business, not entirely different from asking a builder to finish building a half built house. However, there are some useful techniques to ensure you get the most out of the exchange with your lawyer.
Always create a timeline
You have lived and breathed your business and this transaction, while your attorney is possibly hearing about the matter for the first time.
Setting the scene correctly puts your attorney in the picture and explains what you want out of the exchange. Print this out for your attorney.
It will help an attorney identify key areas of risk which you might not have anticipated. Be sure to also tell your external counsel how quickly you need the review to be done. Setting expectations means there is less chance of disappointment later.
Provide supporting documents
It wastes your time and money when your attorney has to come back to ask you for supporting documentation.
Try to anticipate which documents will be relevant to your transaction and bring copies of them to the meeting for your attorney to consider. If you have previous versions of the agreement, for example, bring those too.
Remember, the more background work you do, the simpler and more efficient the process will be.
Understand your needs
Are you looking for a high level overview of your document to highlight some key contractual risks or are you looking for a thoroughly sanitised document reviewed from every possible angle?
I recently had to look over Jim’s Sale of Business Agreement for the potential acquisition of his Technology Company. He came to me with limited areas of risk which he had identified and wanted me to look at these clauses.
I was able to advise him to push back on certain clauses he had already negotiated and the resulting document placed him in a stronger legal and financial position. It was easy to justify the costs associated with the review.
This is not always necessary though — where there is limited legal exposure, or you have no bargaining power, the role of the attorney can be restricted, but still worth the investment since you have assurance that your legal exposure is as restricted as possible.
Be guided by the relative value of the document and the ensuing legal responsibilities — is this a standard supply agreement with a strange payment clause or a multi-national acquisition of intellectual property? The type of expert you engage with will vary, as will the cost of the review.
Areas of concern
Directly related to knowing your business and understanding your needs, is your responsibility to communicate specific areas of concern to your attorney.
A recent client’s business processed a lot of personal information, in accordance with the Protection of Personal Information Act, but, the contractor they were about to sign a service supply agreement sought to have access to some of this personal information.
Seen alone, there was little risk, but within the context of this business, we were able to avoid this. A trusted and qualified expert will help you navigate the complex commercial world.
Are You Protecting Your Customer’s Data?
The collection, usage and sharing of personal information is regulated primarily by the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. The Act was recently promulgated and is yet to be implemented. The Act seeks to give expression to the right to privacy provided for in the Constitution.
At the time of writing, the primary enforcement arm contemplated by the Act, the Information Regulator, has yet to be appointed. Once appointed, all businesses will be required to register with the Information Regulator to make public what personal information is being collected, and what it is being used for.
The Information Regulator will be empowered to enforce compliance with the Act, and able to investigate whether an entity is lawfully processing the public’s personal information.
Related: Protect Your SME From PoPI
How are privacy policies affected?
The Act defines the term ‘processing’ broadly, and includes “the collection, receipt, recording, organisation, collation, storage, updating or modification, retrieval, alteration, consultation or use of a person’s personal information”. To process a person’s personal information, the prior consent of the person (data subject) is needed.
The Act restricts a company’s ability to store personal information outside of the country by requiring that it be transferred only to countries in which comparable security laws and data protection measures exist.
A situation such as this arises more easily than expected. Consider the example of the humble contact form: Your website, with its local server situated in Midrand, utilises a plugin to create custom contact forms.
Although your server may be in Midrand, every person who completes the contact form on your website has their personal information transferred and stored on servers in the home jurisdiction of your plugin creator, which may be in the US. But the plugin creator may also make use of third-party service providers based in Vietnam. An in-depth investigation of all third-party plugins and processes of a website is therefore required to ensure that you comply with the Act.
Access by a data subject to personal information
A data subject is entitled to request a full disclosure of any personal information held by the company.
As the procedures governing access to personal information overlap, companies should also ensure compliance with the processes outlined by the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (‘PAIA’).
In terms of PAIA, all companies are required to compile a manual that needs to be registered with the South African Human Rights Commission. This manual sets out the company’s contact information, what records are available for inspection, the identity of the leadership of the company, as well as the manner in which a person may request access to information held by the company.
However, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has exempted private bodies from complying with this requirement for a period of five years, starting from
1 January 2016.
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