Five questions to ask your leadership team before the POPIA grace period ends
South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act gives individuals more control over how their personal information is collected, processed, and used by private and public bodies. The Act requires such bodies (AKA responsible parties) to meet several minimum requirements for the lawful processing of data – and the grace period is almost over. From 1 July 2021, SA organisations must be compliant. Are you ready? Ask your leadership team these five questions to check that key areas of accountability have been addressed…
1 | Do we have a registered Information Officer?
As a responsible party, you are required to register your Information Officer with the Information Regulator by 1 July 2021.
You can do this online via the Information Officer Registration Portal on the Information Regulator’s website, where electronic and PDF versions of the registration form are available. The portal also contains relevant documentation, including guidance notes, official notices, and policies.
Remember, your Information Officer (IO) is the person responsible for making sure your organisation adheres to POPIA. They need to encourage and ensure your organisation’s compliance with POPIA, deal with any information access requests pursuant to the legislation, and work with the Information Regulator in relation to any investigations conducted in terms of POPIA.
They also need to see to it that an organisational compliance framework is developed, implemented, monitored and maintained, and that internal awareness sessions are conducted regarding the provisions of the Act, among other duties. The IO’s responsibilities are listed in Section 55 of POPIA and in the POPIA Regulations.
2 | Do we have adequate security measures in place?
As a responsible party, you are required to secure the integrity and confidentiality of personal information in your possession or under your control.
According to Section 19 of POPIA, this includes the implementation of “appropriate, reasonable technical and organisational measures” to prevent loss of, damage to, or unauthorised destruction of personal information.
Whether you manage personal data on paper or online, POPIA calls for you to identify all reasonably foreseeable internal and external risks to the data; establish and maintain appropriate safeguards against the risks identified; regularly verify that the safeguards are effectively implemented; and ensure that the safeguards are continually updated in response to new risks.
In addition, POPIA decrees that you must have “due regard to generally accepted information security practices and procedures” which may apply to you generally, or which may be required in terms of specific industry or professional regulations (e.g., hospitals are expected to have strict security measures in place to protect the detailed, sensitive medical records of their patients).
3 | Do we know what to do in the event of a data breach?
As a responsible party, you are required to report security compromises to the Information Regulator and the data subject(s) involved as soon as reasonably possible.
Section 22 of POPIA describes the obligations of the responsible party when there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the personal information of a data subject has been accessed or acquired by an unauthorised person.
You should have a comprehensive incident response plan on hand to guide your actions in the event of a data breach, data leak, or cybersecurity incident. Make sure that your IO and key members of your leadership team follow a systematic process to identify the incident, respond appropriately, escalate where necessary, and communicate clearly in line with POPIA’s stipulations.
If you fail to notify data subjects in such circumstances, you could face imprisonment, fines, or both. Remember, you must notify affected parties in writing as soon as reasonably possible after the discovery of a security compromise.
4 | Do we have employee training initiatives in place?
As a responsible party, you should ensure that your employees are educated about basic information security protocols and procedures.
From your Human Resources Department, which handles sensitive staff info, to your employees themselves, who may manage personal data from customers, suppliers, and service providers, your teams have to deal with personal information on a regular basis.
Make sure everyone in your organisation is familiar with POPIA’s requirements – and that individual staff members, line managers, and department heads understand their duties and responsibilities when it comes to data processing, data management, and data security.
Educate your personnel about the collection, use, and storage of personal information under POPIA, and remember that they may need specialised training for new systems and new productivity tools deployed now, or in the future.
5 | Do we understand the risks of non-compliance?
As a responsible party, you could face hefty fines or imprisonment if you’re found to be in contravention of the law.
There are civil and criminal consequences for non-compliance with POPIA. Section 99 of the Act describes how a data subject (or the Information Regulator, at the request of a data subject) may institute civil action against a responsible party for breach of POPIA.
Offences, penalties, and administrative fines are outlined in Chapter 11 of the legislation. If you are convicted of an offence in terms of POPIA, you could be fined up to R10-million, or imprisoned for up to 10 years.
Non-compliance also poses a risk to your reputation: public trust in your organisation could be eroded overnight if you suffer a data breach, and serious brand damage could cripple your business irrevocably.
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