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Downes Murray International News

Are you POPI compliant?

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 2014 (POPI Act). 

So where is the “stick and carrot” for POPI? Think about how broad the definition of “personal information” can be: customers, beneficiaries, employees, suppliers, donors, in fact anyone we interact with as an organisation. 

The POPI Act was signed into law in November 2013 and partially commenced in April 2014. Organisations will then have 12 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 donors. 

That’s the “stick” part of the deal. The “carrot” aspect is the opportunity to boost confidence in your organisation by demonstrating the way you manage sensitive personal data. Personal information includes data of donors, clients, 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 in line with international best practice.

What Does POPI Mean?
  • Personal information will have to be protected and processed in a different way, in accordance with the conditions of the law;
  • Employee and donor information may not be disclosed to another party without the person’s consent;
  • Employee and donor information will have to be destroyed in a controlled manner when the purpose for which the information is held is no longer valid;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.

POPI “Do’s and Don’ts”:

  • Understand what the POPI Act means to your business;
  • Make sure you have assigned ownership for compliance with POPI;
  • Start by conducting an assessment of how far you are already compliant;
  • Develop a plan to address areas of noncompliance identified;
  • Engage with all the relevant stakeholders impacted by POPI;
  • Remember the “stick and carrot” aspects of POPI;
  • Think about the implications of POPI for the products and services you provide.
  • Ignore POPI; it won’t go away!
  • Put off your compliance efforts just because you have a 12-month grace period;
  • Underestimate the amount of work that is required to change your business policies, processes and procedures, documentation and systems;
  • Panic! POPI compliance is more like climbing Table Mountain than Mount Everest;
  • Rush into your compliance efforts; take a structured, project-based approach to make your compliance efforts effective. 

So Where Should you Start?
A number of steps should be taken to prepare for POPI becoming effective. These include:

  • Organisational – start a POPI preparation programme and appoint an Information Officer to drive your POPI compliance initiatives; an awareness and training programme should be prepared and delivered so that everyone in the business understands the implications of POPI;
  • Legal – review contracts with service providers where personal information is stored on your company’s behalf; for example, if you have outsourcing arrangements in place, ensure that these are amended to include personal information protection. This applies to business partners as well, where customer or donor information is shared with them;
  • Business – identify processes where personal information is involved. Examples include donor and supplier information, and the handling of employee information. These processes should be amended to ensure that they comply with the principles in the POPI Act;
  • Technology – electronically stored personal information should be identified and steps taken to ensure that such information is protected in line with the security safeguards principle contained in the Act.

With acknowledgement to Dr. Peter Tobin who guided DMI through their POPI compliance.

Dr Peter Tobin: Contact 083 922 3444 or email

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