One of the primary responsibilities of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) is to conduct surveys and collect information from households and businesses. How does Stats SA’s activities relate to the POPI Act?
What is the POPI Act?
The Protection of Personal Information Act (Act No. 4 of 2013), known as the POPI Act1, is South Africa’s data privacy law. Its purpose is to give effect to the right to privacy afforded by the Constitution of South Africa by protecting personal information of individuals from misuse.
The Act applies to responsible parties. These include persons or organisations ‒ both public and private ‒ who collect, store and process personal information of other persons. The Act outlines strict guidelines on how organisations should collect and process personal information.
Who is Stats SA?
Stats SA is a government department that derives its mandate from the Statistics Act (Act No. 6 of 1999)2 to collect and process data on persons and companies for statistical purposes. It fulfils this mandate by conducting nationwide household and business surveys. The data are used to produce official statistics on economic growth, unemployment, living conditions and poverty. Stats SA is thus regarded as a responsible party under the POPI Act.
Can Stats SA collect personal information despite the POPI Act?
Yes. A respondent in a survey conducted by Stats SA cannot refuse to give their information, even if they seek to rely on the right to privacy as protected by the POPI Act. Section 3 (3) of the POPI Act states that the Act must be interpreted in a manner that does not prevent any public or private body from exercising its duties in terms of the law in so far as those powers relate to the processing of personal information.
In the case of Stats SA, it exercises its powers in terms of the Statistics Act. This Act states that every person approached by Stats SA has a duty to answer questions. A respondent approached by Stats SA cannot refuse to provide information, as this impedes the functioning of Stats SA.
Will my information be safe?
Absolutely. The POPI Act outlines strict guidelines on how responsible parties should collect and process personal information. Stats SA adheres to all eight conditions for the lawful processing of data as outlined in Section 4 (1) of the POPI Act.
Moreover, Stats SA strictly adheres to international standards. Principle 6 of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics3 states that any individual data collected must be used for statistical purposes only and as such be kept strictly confidential.
Confidentiality is emphasised in Section 17 of South Africa’s Statistics Act that states that, despite any other law, no individual information collected by Stats SA may be disclosed to any other person or entity. A Stats SA official contravening this stipulation will be liable to a fine and/or imprisonment.
1 Protection of Personal Information Act (Act No. 4 of 2013) (available here).
2 Statistics Act (Act No. 6 of 1999) (available here).
3 United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (available here).