Popi series – Condition 7 – Information Security

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 2013 (“POPI”) is not to prohibit processing of Personal Information (“PI”) per se. One of the purposes of POPI is rather to regulate the processing of the PI, by also prescribing that organisations must implement appropriate safeguards to ensure that PI processed will be protected and secured.

This month our focus is on Condition 7 which pertains to Security Safeguards. In essence, this condition requires from organisations to secure the integrity and confidentiality of all PI in its possession or under its control. This will be achieved through implementing appropriate and reasonable security measures.

RELEVANT POPI SECTIONS

We will discuss the practical implications in the next paragraph below but also note our high level comments to the POPI sections in square brackets.

Section 19

“Security measures on integrity and confidentiality of personal information.—

(1) A responsible party must secure the integrity and confidentiality of personal information in its possession or under its control by taking appropriate, reasonable technical and organisational measures to prevent—

(a) loss of, damage to or unauthorised destruction of personal information; and

(b) unlawful access to or processing of personal information. [This is the general obligation on the responsible party to take steps to secure personal information.]

(2) In order to give effect to subsection (1), the responsible party must take reasonable measures to—

(a) identify all reasonably foreseeable internal and external risks to personal information in its possession or under its control;

(b) establish and maintain appropriate safeguards against the risks identified;

(c) regularly verify that the safeguards are effectively implemented; and

(d) ensure that the safeguards are continually updated in response to new risks or deficiencies in previously implemented safeguards. [This is a continual obligation to identify security risks on an ongoing basis and implement measures to reduce risks so identified.]

(3)The responsible party must have due regard to generally accepted information security practices and procedures which may apply to it generally or be required in terms of specific industry or professional rules and regulations.” [POPI does not provide a “tick list” of security requirements to meet. Responsible parties must consider applicable industry security practices and then implement security appropriate security measures for the business.]

Section 20:

“Information processed by operator or person acting under authority.—

An operator or anyone processing personal information on behalf of a responsible party or an operator, must—

(a) process such information only with the knowledge or authorisation of the responsible party; and

(b) treat personal information which comes to their knowledge as confidential and must not disclose it, unless required by law or in the course of the proper performance of their duties.” [This is the limitation on operators – they may not use personal information received from the responsible party for their own purposes outside of the scope of the contract with the responsible party.]

Section 21: Security measures regarding information processed by operator.—

(1) A responsible party must, in terms of a written contract between the responsible party and the operator, ensure that the operator which processes personal information for the responsible party establishes and maintains the security measures referred to in section 19. [There is a duty on the responsible party to regulate the relationship with the operator by written contract.]

(2) The operator must notify the responsible party immediately where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the personal information of a data subject has been accessed or acquired by any unauthorised person. [Operators to note this duty to report unauthorised access.]

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN IN PRACTICE?

Different requirements will need to be considered, depending whether you are acting as a responsible party of operator.

As responsible party you will have an on-going obligation to safeguard the PI in your possession from being destroyed unlawfully, accessed unlawfully, lost or damaged. This obligation entails, your organisation to have reasonable technical and organisational measures in place to protect PI under your control or in your possession. Organisational and technical measures include for example measures in terms whereof organisations restrict unauthorised individuals from entering their premises and implementing controls through which organisation restrict access rights and the usage of their networks, devices, etc.

There is also an ongoing obligation on organisations to identify new risks. These should be prioritized according to the threat posed.

Practical controls or processes in response to risks identified, could include the following:

  • Review of access rights on an ongoing basis;
  • Ownership for PI;
  • Physical access controls;
  • Computer/ device passwords;
  • Firewalls;
  • Encryption;
  • Remote destruction;
  • Anti-virus programs;
  • Exit process.

Most organisations had been implementing some of these measures to secure PI long before POPI was even enacted. Condition 7 of POPI will require from organisations to review the current processes and implement additional processes where so identified.

If your organisation outsources any functions involving the processing of personal information to a third party operator, you will still remain responsible for the processing of the PI. You also have the obligation in terms of POPI to regulate your relationship with the operator by way of written contract to ensure that the operator provides the service in accordance with POPI requirements.

In terms of POPI there is a duty on responsible parties to regularly consider whether there are any new risks and then implement processes to address the risks identified.

As an operator, it is very important to understand that you cannot do with the personal information received from the responsible party as and how you want to. The responsible party as the custodian of the information will authorise you to only use the information for the purposes of the service that you are rendering to the responsible party. You cannot use the information for any of your own purposes.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS A SECURITY BREACH?

In terms of POPI you cannot keep quiet and hope that no one will ever find out. The law puts an obligation on you to report the breach.

In terms of section 22: Notification of security compromises.—

(1) Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the personal information of a data subject has been accessed or acquired by any unauthorised person, the responsible party must notify—

(a) the Regulator; and

(b) subject to subsection (3), the data subject, unless the identity of such data subject cannot be established.

The law also determines that the notification to the data subject must be in writing and communicated in one of the following ways:

  • mailed to the data subject’s last known physical or postal address;
  • sent by e-mail to the data subject’s last known e-mail address;
  • placed in a prominent position on the website of the responsible party;
  • published in the news media; or
  • as may be directed by the Regulator.

The following information needs to be disclosed in the notification:

  • a description of the possible consequences of the security compromise;
  • a description of the measures that the responsible party intends to take or has taken to address the security compromise;
  • a recommendation with regard to the measures to be taken by the data subject to mitigate the possible adverse effects of the security compromise; and
  • if known to the responsible party, the identity of the unauthorised person who may have accessed or acquired the personal information.

CONCLUSION

In preparation for POPI you should consider your current processes, access rights and security measures. It is likely that some of these may need to be reviewed and new processes implemented to ensure compliance. Remember that POPI does not provide for a defined list of measures to implement. But consider applicable industry standards and make sure that you can comply with this important condition 7.

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