POPI is Law - where to from here

POPI is law having been signed into law in November 2013 but what does it mean to your organisation and how to you start tacking the new law?

Do you remember the old story about how to get things moving? That’s right, the one about the stick and the carrot! Well now we have something new to focus our attention on: Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act No.4 of 2013 (POPI Act). Gazetted in late 2013, with partial commencement in April 2014, now is the time to get things moving in terms of compliance with the Act.

So where is the “stick and carrot” for POPI?

Think about how broad the definition of “personal information” can be: customers, employees, suppliers, in fact anyone we interact with as a business.  The POPI Act was signed into law in November 2013 and is expected to become effective in the next few months.  Organisations will then have twelve months to become fully compliant or face the prospect of some potentially stiff penalties (including fines of up to R10 million) or worse reputational damage and loss of customers. That’s the “stick” part of the deal.

The “carrot” aspect is the opportunity to boost confidence in your business by demonstrating the way you manage sensitive personal data. Personal information includes data of customers, suppliers and employees, whether they are in emails, invoices, databases or printouts. This means showing you have processes and procedures in place to handle effectively and securely all aspects of what’s covered in the POPI Act.

Where does POPI come from?

Privacy and Data Protection Acts have already existed in other countries for several years. Examples of these are the European Union (EU) Data Protection Act which came into effect in 1995, the UK Data Protection Act (1998). The POPI Act is modelled on the EU legislation to a large extent, and POPI has been written to ensure that South Africa is line with international best practice.   

Conditions contained in the POPI Act

There are 8 conditions in the act, a brief description of these is shown below.

  What does POPI mean to you and your stakeholders? 

So we know that POPI is law now, what are the basic "Dos and Don't"?

POPI Dos and Don’ts”


  • Understand what the POPI Act means to your business;
  •  Make sure you have assigned ownership for compliance with POPI;
  • Start by conducting an assessment of how far you are already compliant;
  • Develop a plan to address areas of non-compliance identified;
  • Engage with all the relevant stakeholders impacted by POPI;
  • Remember the “stick and carrot” aspects of POPI;
  • Think about the implications of POPI for the products and services you provide.


  • Ignore POPI, it won’t go away!
  • Put off your compliance efforts just because you have a twelve month grace period
  • Underestimate the amount of work that is required to change your business policies, processes and procedures, documentation and systems
  • Panic! POPI compliance is more like climbing Table Mountain than Mount Everest
  • Rush into your compliance efforts; take a structured, project-based approach to make your compliance efforts effective

So where should you start? 

Now that POPI is law, where should you start?

A number of steps should be taken to prepare for POPI becoming effective.  These include:

  • Organisational – start a POPI preparation program and appoint an Information Officer to drive your POPI compliance initiatives; an awareness and training programme should be prepared and delivered so that everyone in the business understands the implications of POPI;
  • Legal – review contracts with service providers where personal information is stored on your company’s behalf, for example, if you have outsourcing arrangements in place, ensure that these are amended to include personal information protection. This applies to business partners as well, where customer is shared with them;  
  • Business – identify processes where personal information is involved.  Examples include customer and supplier information, as is the handling of employee information.   These processes should be amended to ensure that they comply with the principles in the POPI Act;
  • Technology – electronically stored personal information should be identified and steps taken to ensure that such information is protected in line with the Security safeguards principle contained in the Act.

Authors:  Dr Peter Tobin, John Cato, and Professor David Taylor, May 2014.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss your requirements and how we can be of assistance to you with your POPI journey.

Please click here to go from the POPI is Law page to go the  POPI Services page

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