Setting the record straight: the Protection of Personal Information Bill and the Protection of Information Bill

2010-10-21 00:00

ON August 13, 2009, the cabinet approved the Protection of Personal Information Bill (“PPI Bill”), which aims to give effect to the constitutional right to privacy.

Once it is passed into law it will attempt to protect individuals by penalising organisations and other parties that fail to take adequate steps to secure personal information such as identity and contact details.

The PPI Bill is markedly different from the Protection of Information Bill (“Information Bill”) that has recently taken centre stage in the media.

There has been much confusion about the relationship between these two bills resulting from the unfortunate similarities in their naming. This article attempts to clear up confusion by illustrating that beyond their names, there is little similarity in the content of the bills themselves.

The key differences will be highlighted by providing answers to the following:

1) What is the objective of the bill?

2)What type of information is covered by the bill?

3)To whom does the bill apply?

4)What are the human rights implications of the bill?

5)Which government department is responsible for introducing the bill?

1. PPI Bill: The bill introduces new legislation to ensure that personal information is protected, whether it is processed by public or private bodies. It provides a regulatory framework within which organisations may process personal information.

Information Bill: The bill is meant to replace an existing piece of legislation namely, the Protection of Information Act. It deals with the protection of state information.

2. PPI Bill: The bill regulates the processing of “personal information” only. Personal information is any information about an identifiable natural or juristic (corporate) person that can be linked back to that person, such as identifying symbols or numbers, contact information, information relating to one’s race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation and religious beliefs, medical and financial information, criminal history or biometric information.

Information Bill: This applies to “classified information”. Classified information is state information that the government decides should be given heightened protection against disclosure. State information is any information generated, acquired, received or in the possession or control of the government.

3. PPI Bill: This applies to any person or organisation, public or private, that processes personal information in South Africa.

Information Bill: This applies to all persons and organisations, public or private. This means that if the government classifies certain information, no person or organisation will be allowed access to the information unless the government decides otherwise.

4. PPI Bill: It is meant to give effect to the right to privacy contained in the Constitution and to protect individual interests against the abuse of power.

Information Bill: The provisions in this bill are not grounded in the Constitution and do not aim to give effect to any fundamental human right. They aim to limit access to information that the government decides may be detrimental to national interest.

5. PPI Bill: The custodian of the PPI Bill is the Justice and Constitutional Development Department.

Information Bill: Responsibility for the Information Bill resides with the State Security Department.

The confusion between the PPI Bill and the Information Bill is unfortunate and could create doubt over the importance of the PPI Bill. The PPI Bill intends to protect individuals, providing greater control over personal information.

The Information Bill grants the government powers to limit the public’s access to information that it deems to be in the national interest.

Shamit Govind, Associate Director, IT Advisory Services

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