March 5, 2024

The Protection of Personal Information Act

Understanding information rights in South Africa. 

The Constitution provides that everyone has access to information but this does not mean that everyone must be given all the information.

Access to information and the protection of personal information

Information is something we encounter on a daily basis in our lives and all of our decisions are based on information. Information is collected and used in decisions when buying a car or a house, when looking for employment and so on. With the upcoming elections, information plays a critical role as South Africans will use the information to decide which political party to vote for. 

Considering the importance of information, it is not surprising that section 32 of the Constitution includes, as a human right, that everyone has the right to access to information. This article will provide information on what this means and how information can be protected. 

What is meant by access to information?

The Constitution provides that everyone has access to information. This does not mean that everyone must be given all the information. It means that a person can apply to get access to information, provided they follow the correct procedures to request the information. 

The Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (“PAIA”) gives effect to this human right and enables people to gain access to information held by public bodies (like the Government and the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa) and private bodies (like companies and businesses) within the country.

In terms of PAIA, a person may request access to information if the following requirements have been met:

>     The information being requested must be required for the exercise or protection of any rights, such as to request information from a political party to exercise the right to vote.

 >    The correct procedure for the request must be followed, such as to complete a specified form and, if applicable, pay the prescribed fees. 

>     The request must not fall under a lawful ground of refusal, for example, if the access to information will result in personal information being shared that would unreasonably infringe on the privacy of someone. 

What is meant by the protection of information?

Apart from having access to information, South African legislation also provides everyone with the protection of their personal information (such as their contact details and so on). 

The Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (“POPI”) provides, amongst other things, that a person's personal information may only be processed if s/he has consented thereto. Processing includes not just collecting and storing the information, but also sharing and using the personal information. 

POPI also provides that a person can object to their personal information being stored or used, as well as request that the information be deleted or destroyed. This can be done by directly approaching the relevant entity and informing them to stop processing the personal information (either on a call or in writing). 

For example, a person's contact details can be used by a political party to contact them as part of their campaign leading up to the elections. If that person does not want the political party to contact them any further, they have the right to tell them to remove their personal information and not to use it in the future. 

Where must a dispute or complaint be lodged?

There are different types of disputes or complaints that can arise when dealing with information rights. For example, the entity unreasonably refuses to provide access to information that they must share, or the entity did not remove the personal information as requested. 

It is important to first address the dispute with the entity in order to try and resolve it in line with their internal procedures. If the dispute remains unresolved, it can be escalated to the Information Regulator. 

The Information Regulator deals with all disputes and complaints arising from PAIA and POPI. Their contact details are as follows:

> Website:

> Tel: 010 023 5200

> E-mail: 

- (for general enquiries) (for complaints relating to access to information)

- (for complaints relating to the protection of personal information)


Information plays a vital role, not just in everyday lives, but also from a legal point of view as it is a basic human right in South Africa. Everyone has a right to access information and to have their personal information protected. By having access to information, South Africans are empowered to make informed decisions when exercising their rights. 

Did you know… You can object to your personal information being stored or used, as well as request that the information be deleted or destroyed.