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Confidentiality - Is it a fantasy?

What is confidential information?
 What do we want to keep confidential?   The Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPI) has a few ideas around the subject.  (See below).
 The question is “Is it possible?” or has the computer/social networking age changed the rules of privacy for ever?
 Besides the high profile whistle blowers, we are exposed both personally and professionally at every turn.  
 Contractual agreements
 While companies can get staff to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and tie them up contractually, it is a tough ask to get people who live their lives through social networking to accept the weight of keeping private information under wraps.
 When you are applying for a visa or a cell phone, you are required to give 3 months of bank statements.   Who looks at these?   We assume they have signed confidentiality agreements, but where are they stored?
 It is my view that there is a chain of logistics around signed paperwork that is almost impossible to protect, no matter how many processes are in place.
 Increased digitalisation has cleaned up a lot of the “lost in process” risk, but adds another dimension in terms of who can get into your data, and whether they have signed confidentiality agreements.
 Online banking now means that deposits and balances are sent to my phone, and display on my screen, even if it is in standby mode.  I guess I agreed to that one, and now have to be careful not to leave my phone visible to visitors in my office.
 Bank statements are an interesting new development, too.   Mine arrive via email with the instruction to use my ID number to access the data.
 There is a small group of people who do not have access to my ID number, I am not sure who they are, but they must be out there somewhere…..  
 Who gets to know our ID Numbers?
 Every form I fill in asks for it, certain office parks insist on storing it, along with a photocopy of my driver’s licence if I want to do business with the tenants.   My ID number is stored on Visitors’ Systems at two of our suppliers and, in both cases, I had to state it out loud in their busy Reception area, disclosing both my age and the number to anybody who wanted to take note of them.
 Data Management
 When you read what PoPI consider personal information, and the rules around storage and processing, it is clear that businesses are going to have to take a very close look at the full spectrum of data management.
 What won’t you share?
 Of course, I have thought seriously about what I consider to be information that I don’t want to share until 20 years after my death (PoPI allows sharing after that) and there are a few items that I think are mine and mine alone.  I notice that PoPI does not specifically mention weight…..
 Definition of Personal Information – PoPI
 Personal information means information relating to an identifiable natural person, including but not limited to---
  • Information relating to the race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, national, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental health, well-being, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth of the person
  • Information relating to the education or the medical, financial, criminal or employment history of the person;
  • Any identifying number, symbol, email address, physical address, telephone number, location information, online identifier or other particular assigned to the person;
  • The biometric information of the person;
  • The personal opinions, views or preferences of the person;
  • Correspondence sent by the person that is implicitly or explicitly of a private or confidential nature or further correspondence that would reveal the contents of the original correspondence;
  • The views or opinions of another individual about the person; and
  • The name of the person if it appears with other personal information relating to the person or if the disclosure of the name itself would reveal information about the person,
But excludes information about an individual who has been dead for more than 20 years

Please note that the above is transcribed from the Act.

Links, Notes and References

Government Gazette, 26 November, 2013 – PoPI Act – Act No 4 of 2013


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