In 2009, the South African Cabinet approved the Protection of Personal Information Bill (PPI Bill). This Bill is different from another Bill that has recently taken centre stage, namely the Protection of Information Bill (Information Bill).
There is confusion about the relationship between these Bills resulting from the unfortunate similarities in the naming of the legislation. Beyond their names, there is little similarity between the two.
The PPI Bill is new legislation that was introduced by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to ensure that personal information is protected by public and private bodies. It provides a regulatory framework which enables individuals to maintain control over the use and disclosure of their personal information.
The Information Bill was introduced by the Department of State Security and replaces existing legislation from the 1980’s. It deals with the protection of State information and empowers the Government to classify information to protect the ‘national interest’. It is not focused on the protection of individuals. It would be more accurate to refer to the Bill as a ‘State Information Bill’.
Type of information covered
The PPI Bill regulates ‘personal information’ only. This is any information that can be linked back to a person or company, such as identifying numbers, contact information, information about race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation and religious beliefs, medical and financial information, criminal history or biometric information.
The Information Bill applies to ‘classified information’, which is State information the Government decides should be protected. State information is any information generated, acquired, received or in the possession or control of the Government. This includes personal, sensitive or commercial information.
The PPI Bill applies to persons and organisations that process personal information in South Africa. The Information Bill applies to all persons and organisations. If the Government classifies information, no person or organisation will be allowed to access that information without Government approval.
Human rights implications
The PPI Bill gives effect to the constitutional right to privacy. It is meant to protect individuals from the misuse of their personal information.
The Information Bill does not give effect to any fundamental human right. It aims to limit access to information that the Government decides may be detrimental to national interests.
Currently, there is debate about whether the Information Bill infringes on the rights of the media and free speech. It has been suggested that the legislation could limit the ability of the press to report freely on possible government abuse and corruption.
The unfortunate confusion between the Bills could create doubt about the value of the PPI Bill to individuals who wish to exercise their constitutional right to privacy. It would perhaps be in the public interest for Government and the media to work together to clarify the objectives and intention behind these important bills.