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Tlakula: If you can’t protect our personal information, don’t collect it

POPIA neither inhibits innovation, nor disables business, says advocate Pansy Tlakula.
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Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator

Now that information is an enabler of business, there needs to be a paradigm shift. The protection of personal information must be viewed as a fundamental human right which which flows from the right to privacy, which has been recognised as a human right by several human rights organisations.

So said advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson, Information Regulator of South Africa, who was presenting a keynote address at ITWeb Governance, Risk & Compliance 2021, being held online this morning. Her presentation was on ‘POPIA as an enabler of business in the data driven digital era and not an impediment to innovation and profitability’.

Tlakula said privacy can be considered as the presumption that individuals should have an area of autonomous development, interaction and liberty, a “private sphere” with or without interaction with others, free from State intervention and from excessive unsolicited intervention by other uninvited individuals.

Those who process personal information for business purposes must always remember that our personal information is our privacy. And it is a fundamental part of our human dignity.

Advocate Pansy Tlakula

Needless to say, the interference with this right, as it relates to the protection of personal information, can have a negative impact on any individual, including identity theft and financial loss, she explained. “This does not mean that the right to privacy is absolute. It must be balanced against other rights, such as the right of access to information. It should not hinder public and private bodies from assuming their duties and functions, or from conducting them.”

POPIA also provides individuals with rights and remedies to protect their personal information from processing that is not in accordance with the law. Most importantly, section three provides that POPIA must be interpreted in a manner that does not prevent any public or private from exercising, or performing its duties. 

“Therefore, from the interpretation of provisions of POPIA, it neither inhibits innovation, not does it disable business,” she explains. “Never has personal information been as  important a commodity as it is today. The economy throughout the globe is data driven. Most sectors of the economy including marketing, advertising, sales, banking, even medicine, are digitalised and data driven.”

In this data-driven economy, compliance with POPIA is a business imperative, says Tlakula. 

“It is an added value to any business. As we count down to the 1st of July 2021, which is the date on which the enforcement powers of the Information Regulator will come into effect, private and public bodies must ensure that they are fully compliant with the act. They must ensure that they comply with all the eight conditions for the lawful processing of personal information provided for input.”

Finally, she cited the dangers of falling foul of the regulator. 

“Non-compliance will damage the brand and reputation of a company through bad publicity as well as investigation by the regulator. It can lead to decline in financial wellbeing through, among other things, avoidable fines for non-compliance, which have to be explained to shareholders.”

Compliance is an imperative, she stressed. “It does not in any way stifle innovation. In conclusion, I want to address those who collect our personal information. I say to them: Those who process personal information for business purposes must always remember that our personal information is our privacy. And it is a fundamental part of our human dignity. If you cannot protect our personnel information, don't collect it.”

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