Lack of data protection could become global business handicap

The 60 developing countries that have no data protection legislation in place could soon find it more difficult to do business with the rest of the world, warns Shamika Sirimanne, director of the technology and logistics directorate at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

She says in a statement that data security and protection legislation is urgently needed in developing countries to not only protect users, but also ensure that enterprises are able to trade effectively with partners such as the European Union, which are imposing stringent data protection regulations.

Sirimanne urged donor agencies to “ratchet up” support in areas that could help developing countries better prepare for the evolving digital economy.

“We must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past,” she added. “This time, we should make every effort to ensure that the digital revolution brings about inclusive development rather than more inequality.”

South African companies are in a stronger position than many of their competitors in developing countries.

Data privacy is protected under the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) which was signed into law in 2013, with an incremental rollout of the legislation.

Sections that have been implemented are the establishment of the information regulator, the issuance of regulations to the Act and the definitions clause which codified concepts crucial to data protection including "processing" and "personal information".

However, there is a warning: Hogan Lovells senior associate Leishen Pillay says the “material aspects of the Act are not enforceable and have no foreseeable or determinable effective date”.

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