THE Next Element, in association with Randles Attorneys, hosted heads, bursars and teachers from several schools around KwaZulu-Natal at Ascot Inn this week to create awareness among the education sector on the Protection of Private Information Act (POPIA). The Next Element has partnered with Randles Attorneys in order to become the leading consultants on this legislation. The focus of the seminar was solely on the education sector and included delegates from 30 schools, including Hilton College, Michaelhouse, Treverton, Thomas More and St Charles College to name a few.The act, which is due to come into force this year, exists to protect people from having their personal information processed without their consent by holding institutions legally and financially accountable should they abuse or compromise personal information in any way. Randles Attorneys Senior Director Gavin McLachlan began proceedings, going over the meaning of the act and how it would affect schools directly. “Once the act comes into full operation this year, institutions will have a year’s grace period to become compliant with the requirements for processing personal information.“Penalties of up to R10 million can be imposed as well as jail time, but reputational damage should be the motivating factor for companies and institutions to comply with the act,” said McLachlan. McLachlan said that we are all data subjects and, in terms of education, the act would affect schools in terms of their accounting records; CCTV and photographs; pupil, parent and staff records; marketing content featuring children: physical access to school grounds; as well as special information such as religion, political persuasion and more. “Schools house a huge amount of information about children. South Africa regulates the way in which children’s personal information is processed without infringing on their privacy and this is why schools need to be compliant,” said McLachlan. McLachlan further stated that any data breaches would have to be disclosed to the data subjects and the Information Regulator and those found guilty of not having reported these breaches will face heavy fines. “Institutions cannot afford to be careless with the personal information of others and, speaking as an attorney myself, I know how important the personal information of my clients is,” stated McLachlan. Noluthando Mwelase, a candidate legal practitioner at Randles Attorneys who is experienced in the compliance field, said that we as people need to learn the impact of our social media presence and tread carefully when sharing anything online. “We have to guide and protect our youth. I know the dangers of social media, having experienced a problem myself in the past, and therefore I know how important this act is,” said Mwelase. The Next Element offers various packages on compliance with POPIA. For more information please contact Bridget Siebert via e-mail at Bridget@thenextelement.co.za or at 083 636 1003.