Data Protection Day is a good time to find out if your data is safe, writes Barry Cook, privacy and group data protection officer at VFS Global.
We share a lot more information in the digital world than we used to. Businesses, organisations, close family, friends and acquaintances- all have access to some of our important personal data. Anyone who has this information needs to protect it and make sure it is not abused, sold, or falls into the hands of a criminal.
The need for data protection has been recognised for over a decade, with Data Protection Day celebrated internationally on 28 January. Data Protection Day is the ideal time to find out which data protection laws are in force in South Africa, and how companies and institutions are implementing them.
Data protection laws make sure your data is used only for the purpose you shared it. They stipulate how data must be stored, used and when necessary purged. In addition, they regulate the sharing of personal information, making sure that personal details are only shared if there is a lawful reason, such as explicit consent or a public interest, like in the case of preventing a crime.
One of the most well-known data protection laws is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that was adopted by the European Parliament in 2016. The regulation outlines the restrictions on data handling and sharing by government and corporations.
GDPR regulations protect the privacy and personal information rights of individuals. Data breaches can attract heavy fines. A case in point is when one of the Big Four technology companies was imposed with a hefty fine for breaching online privacy rules at the beginning of 2019.
GDPR raises the standards of personal data privacy across not just Europe, but also the world, by changing the rules of companies that collect, store or process user information. Every company that operates in Europe, trades with Europe, or has European users is required to comply with GDPR standards other countries are also introducing and updating up their data protection laws, many in line with GDPR.
Approximately 100 new data protection laws have been put into practice across the globe in the last 12 months with many countries implementing data protection laws for the first time. This is not only to align with the GDPR, it is also because consumers are holding companies accountable for the information they hold, and how they use it, abuse it, or lose it.
Consumers are putting pressure on businesses to secure their personal information. Countries are realising that if they want to protect these industries, they must create a sound framework for data protection.
In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) was published with final changes early in 2019. POPI follows the same principles as GDPR, with strict requirements and limitations on how companies use, distribute and store their customers’ data. The Act gives customers protection, so they know there are systems in place to ensure their data stays private and confidential.
When customers give companies their information, they are giving them their trust that they will in turn protect data. Having a data protection system and following data protection laws shows that you take this trust and the responsibility for the data you have seriously. Businesses that embrace data protection laws and implement them have a competitive edge over those who don’t.
It is imperative that all companies – big and small ensure the data they hold is protected. Although we’re in the visa and consular services arena, we’re primarily in the business of trust.
VFS Global complies to the requirements of the GDPR and our customers expect us to protect their data, have good systems in place, and be able to identify any breaches quickly so we can prevent data losses and theft. It is easier for international businesses to operate when countries have data protection laws in place. So, when we use contractors and other service providers in these countries we know they will protect our customers’ personal information.
We may only hear about the breaches at big business, but hackers are increasingly targeting smaller businesses, because they know these organisations are less likely to have the correct protection mechanisms in place.
Countries and companies that don’t yet have data protection systems in place are encouraged to set these up. Business thrives because of how it uses data but will only sustain if it protects data.