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South African Data Privacy laws and E-mail: Ensuring POPIA Compliance and Protection


The Republic of South Africa has undertaken substantial measures to enact legislation and regulations pertaining to the safeguarding of data and personal information in the form of POPIA. The COVID-19 epidemic has underscored the necessity for legislation governing the expansion of data and personal information arising from the use of digital services. On 1 July 2021, the Republic of South Africa implemented its inaugural legislation pertaining to data protection, aligning itself with global efforts to safeguard privacy rights with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Below we discuss South African data privacy laws and the importance of POPIA compliance for E-mail users.

The right to personal confidentiality is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

The Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013) known as POPIA, was enacted on 26 November 2013 after receiving the President’s endorsement. Except for Section 58, the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) were effectively implemented on 1 July 2021. Section 58, however, had a gradual implementation process and was not enforced until 1 February 2022. An information officer must be designated within your company in accordance with the POPI Act. This person is in charge of making sure your company follows the law. The officer’s responsibilities are outlined on the official government website.

The Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (‘CPA’) should also be considered when considering data privacy. This 2011 law applies to telephone direct marketing of products and services. The POPIA and Consumer Protection Act (CPA) direct marketing and unsolicited communication restrictions may seem similar. Importantly, POPIA only applies to unsolicited electronic communications.

Access to information is governed by the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (‘PAIA’), which grants individuals access to records kept by government agencies and private businesses.

Effective as of December 1, 2021, the Cybercrimes Act proposes to both create new offences, such as criminalising the theft and interference of data, and update existing criminal offences to account for the unique characteristics of numerous cybercrimes.

There is a wealth of information available to you in your inbox. You use email for both personal and professional purposes, including commercial negotiations.

Mapping the flow of personal information into, within, and out of an organisation is a difficult task for any corporation. The results of such an analysis will probably indicate that email is the single greatest security risk facing any company today. The proliferation of email has made it difficult for businesses to keep track of their employees’ private information.

Every organisation needs to make sure they have in place the necessary POPIA security protections, which include things like:

  • The option to share the email.
  • Automatically encrypt some types of emails.
  • The email should be encrypted from beginning to conclusion.
  • Email attachment encryption.
  • Put a disclaimer in an email that it contains sensitive information.

The POPIA, like other compliance standards, requires “appropriate, reasonable technical and organisational measures” to protect personal data from being lost, misused, hacked, or otherwise compromised.

In general, the POPIA mandates the following measures to protect individuals’ private data:

  • Recognise potential dangers from both inside and outside the organisation.
  • Install and keep up security measures.
  • Regularly check and revise the security measures.

Operators must also implement security protections to personal information, and responsible parties must stay current with sector-specific security standards and professional requirements in order to comply with the POPIA.

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