WASPA welcomes POPI, asks for Information Officer clarity

WASPA says the imminent promulgation of the Protection of Personal Information Act is a welcome development

October 17, 2012

The Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) says the imminent promulgation of the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act is a welcome development that will help align legislation with important consumer protection elements of the WASPA Code of Conduct.

“POPI is a huge step in the right direction and is a very well-drafted piece of legislation. WASPA has only one concern and that is about the Act’s provision for the appointment of information officers,” says Russel Stromin, chair of WASPA’s Code of Conduct working group.

“Better control of our personal information in today’s highly connected society is a must and the Act puts South Africa right up there. However, one of the Act’s key provisions – the appointment of information officers – is somewhat unclear. It may be important to open this as an area of debate before promulgation of the Act,” said Mr Stromin.

Chapter 5 (section 55) of POPI introduces the concept of the information officer, and makes it clear that this individual is necessary both for public and private bodies. It is clear in the Definitions section of POPI that, in the case of private bodies, the information officer will be the head of that body as defined in Section 1 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) (Act 2 of 2000). Section 1 of PAIA defines “head” as the CEO or equivalent, or his or her nominee.

Section 56 of POPI then mandates that public and private bodies must make provision for deputy information officers, who are clearly going to be the people actually doing the work. Again, POPI relies on PAIA, referring specifically to section 17 “with the necessary changes” for instructions on the appointment of these deputy information officers.

“Section 17 of PAIA, however, refers exclusively to public bodies. We wonder whether the phrase ‘with the necessary changes’ is broad enough to widen the scope of this section so substantially—especially as private bodies are dealt with separately and in some detail elsewhere in the PAIA (Part 3),” observes Mr Stromin.

“In order to navigate POPI one has to keep referring to PAIA, and this makes it hard to work out exactly what is meant. The definition of ‘private body’ in the PAIA is very broad, and would apply to all natural or juristic persons engaged in a business, profession or trade. Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, need certainty as to their obligations. We think debate will help obtain clarity prior to the implementation of a sorely-needed and welcome piece of legislation,” Mr Stromin concluded.