Keeping Things Personal

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Although everyone will deny it someone, somewhere, is selling people's private information to various companies around South Africa. We have all experienced the rush of calls from cell phone companies, banks and clothing stores urging us to sign a new contract, get a new credit card or open a new account once we have filled in our personal details on a application of some sort. Surprisingly, it appears that the average consumer doesn't care that their phone number is being given out to the highest bidder, and doesn't consider the security implications of this. This however is going to change when the POPI (Protection of Personal Information) Bill is signed into law.

Apart from the nuisance of receiving calls from all and sundry at inconvenient times, the practise can, and indeed has, compromised our security. How many of you have received a call from a chap in India claiming he works for Microsoft and that they have picked up a problem with your PC? On the face of things, it all seems pretty harmless, but given that many people have either paid for the non existent problem to be rectified or even worse, have given their banking details to the voice on the other end of the line and have then had their bank accounts hacked, this seemingly harmless phone call starts looking rather more serious.

Simply put, there should have been a law in place years ago. No one but the people you willingly give your personal information to should have the right to use it. Of course it isn't only 'big business' that uses and distributes this kind of information and the new Bill is going to force any company which receives personal information from clients to not only toe the line, but to ensure that private client information is kept private.

Bill Rawson, chairman of the Rawson Property Group says that the POPI could present South African landlords and managing agents with a real challenge because the Bill not only forbids the dissemination of any personal information to another organisation or individual, but it also regulates the way in which the individual’s data is stored. It insists in particular that a high standard of security be applied to all storage systems and makes it very clear that copying or extracting information from the documents stored by or for the benefit of any third party is prohibited.

“Only the landlord and his agent are allowed to see the information and this has to be strictly related to the lease and the tenant’s ability to meet his obligations.

“Furthermore, the tenant has, in all cases, to agree to the landlord or agent having or getting this information and can insist that he be given a copy of any information in his file.

“This applies, if I read the act correctly, to the information which will be gathered from credit bureaux, former employers and former landlords. From the outset the tenant does of course have the right to object to this data being collected, but if he does so he is unlikely to be accepted as a tenant.”

Rawson warns that in terms of the new law, virtually every item of information stored is considered personal. Any comments by previous associates, employers or landlords are definitely not for the public’s perusal.

“Any shrewd marketer looking, say, for a section of the public earning a certain income per month or interested in their particular dining, recreational or shopping habits could often see at once if a new sectional title development was likely to meet his demographic, based on the price and location of the units. Once the Bill has been passed these marketers will no longer legally be able to obtain information on the residents of these developments," adds Rawson.

The Bill could not have come at a better time. We live in an age of cyber crime and the fact that it will be illegal for others to pass on your personal information could well help curb this growing problem - and put a stop to those irritating phone calls.

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