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No one-size-fits-all solution to PoPIA

The Protection of Personal Information Act applies differently to different businesses, writes SIMEON TASSEV, MD of Galix Networking

The Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) applies to all businesses in South Africa. However, while it is universally applicable, it is also open to interpretation, and the way in which it applies may differ depending on the nature of a business and the type of information it uses. There is no product or solution that you can buy off the shelf to deliver PoPIA compliance, and no one-size-fits-all template that can be applied, which makes it more important than ever to work with the right partners.

Being PoPIA compliant is a complex exercise, and it is essential to start from the beginning with assessments of various environments, including PoPIA readiness and the cybersecurity landscape. Basically, you need to know where you are, otherwise you will have no idea of how ready your business is for PoPIA compliance.

 The foundation of this is an understanding of data, data flows and processes, and how these relate to PoPIA and other applicable data protection legislation. Then, businesses can focus their efforts on the data that relates to PoPIA and develop an appropriate framework and approach for elements like data protection, storage, and management.

Mind the gaps

On the journey to PoPIA compliance it is also essential to identify any potential issues in the landscape and data flows. A gap register is an essential element of this process as it will help to document these issues, outline any holes in the compliance strategy, and provide a base from which to work on improving compliance.

While PoPIA is open to interpretation in many areas, there are some very specific requirements that need to be in place, and if they are not, then this is a gap that must be addressed. For example, it is essential to have a way for people to unsubscribe from communications, and a process in place for people to request that their information be removed.

You cannot plead ignorance

While many areas of the Act are not well defined, PoPIA specifically states that ignorance is not considered as a defence, but if you are not aware of a problem then you cannot fix it. Businesses need to perform appropriate assessments to form a benchmark of their compliance status, and then work toward addressing any problems, issues or gaps in their processes and practices.

This is an ongoing process as businesses, systems, processes, and data are continually evolving, and a cybersecurity and compliance strategy should do the same. After the initial readiness assessments are performed, an annual assessment should be put into place to ensure that security and compliance status are maintained in line with both the generic requirements of PoPIA as well as areas specific to your business.

Compliance and security go hand-in-hand, and both need to be up to the right standard to ensure that they are aligned with the legal requirements and risk appetite of the business. However, what compliance looks like differs from business to business and you cannot simply buy a solution to fix the problem. Finding the right partner on this journey is essential to assessing compliance readiness, identifying, and closing gaps and continuing on the journey of compliance for the long term.

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