The Protection of Personal Information Bill 2009 (POPI) aims to
bring South Africa in line with international data protection laws.
In this bi-weekly series, members of our Information Law Group
provide some insight into the implications of POPI to assist you in
your preparations for the new legislative regime*. The impact of
this legislation will be far-reaching and will significantly affect
the way companies collect, store and disseminate personal
information. This edition focuses on the types of personal
information protected by POPI.
POPI only protects "personal information" that falls
within the definition. Such information must relate to identifiable
and living persons, and where applicable, companies and other
juristic persons. Personal information includes, but is not limited
information relating to race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital
status, national, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual
orientation, age, physical or mental health, well-being,
disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and
birth of the person;
information relating to the education or the medical,
financial, criminal or employment history of the person;
any identifying number, symbol, email address, physical
address, telephone number, location information, online identifier
or other particular assignment to the person;
the biometric information of the person;
the personal opinions, views or preferences of the person;
correspondence sent by the person that is implicitly or
explicitly of a private or confidential nature, or further
correspondence that would reveal the contents of the original
the views or opinions of another individual about the person;
the name of the person if it appears with other personal
information relating to the person, or if the disclosure of the
name itself would reveal information about the person.
It has been proposed that the definition of personal information
be amended to include consumer or purchasing preferences or
patterns in certain circumstances. If this amendment comes into
force, information regarding consumer purchasing trends held by
market research companies will also be protected.
Personal information of children
Unless there is prior consent from a parent or guardian, POPI
prohibits the processing of personal information concerning a
child. Processing is also permitted when the law requires such
processing and / or when the Regulator permits such processing.
Special personal information
POPI prohibits the processing of "special personal
information" unless a data subject consents to such
processing. The only exception to consent is when the law requires
processing, or when the Regulator authorises it. Special personal
information is information about the data subject's religious
or philosophical beliefs; race or ethnic origin; trade union
membership; political opinions; health; sexual life; or the
commission or alleged commission of any offence and related court
Personal information that has been "anonymised" or
de-identified does not constitute "personal information"
under POPI. The anonymising of personal information is a useful
tool for disclosing data that would otherwise be prohibited under
POPI. It is widely used in the disclosure of data, for example in
providing trends or statistics for employers; in due diligence
investigations; and in the cross-border transferring of data in the
Application to companies and other juristic
The definition of "personal information" extends to
information about juristic entities, where applicable. The
definition is most significant for corporate entities in the realm
of financial information, private and confidential correspondence
and the corporation's views or opinions of others. This
approach of including juristic bodies in data protection is in line
with similar legislation in countries such as Austria, Switzerland
and Denmark. Proposed European Union (EU) Regulations, which may
amend current EU legislation, do not make provision for
safeguarding the personal information of legal entities; and
Italian privacy laws were recently amended to remove protection for
legal entities in an attempt to simplify the data protection legal
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Protection of Personal Information Bill proposes to impose stringent obligations on those with personal information.
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