Employers' Statutory Vicarious Liability in Terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act

  • Daleen Millard Professor of Private law, University of Johannesburg https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4668-9320
  • Eugene Gustav Bascerano Legal Advisor, Office of the General Council, University of Johannesburg.
Keywords: Vicarious liabiliy – Protection of Personal Information Act – defences – comparison with Employment Equity Act, United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act of 1998, the New Zealand’s Privacy Act 28 of 1993, and the Australian Privacy Act 119 of 1988

Abstract

A person whose privacy has been infringed through the unlawful, culpable processing of his or her personal information can sue the infringer’s employer based on vicarious liability or institute action based on the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPI). Section 99(1) of POPI provides a person (“data subject”), whose privacy has been infringed, with the right to institute a civil action against the responsible party. POPI defines the responsible party as the person who determines the purpose of and means for processing of personal information of data subjects. Although POPI does not equate a responsible party to an employer, the term “responsible party” is undoubtedly a synonym for “employer” in this context. By holding an employer accountable for its employees’ unlawful processing of a data subject’s personal information, POPI creates a form of statutory vicarious liability.

Since the defences available to an employer at common law, and developed by case law, differs from the statutory defences available to an employer in terms of POPI, it is necessary to compare the impact this new statute has on employers. From a risk perspective, employers must be aware of the serious implications of POPI. The question that arises is whether the Act does not perhaps take matters too far.

This article takes a critical look at the statutory defences available to an employer in vindication of a vicarious liability action brought by a data subject in terms of section 99(1) of POPI. It compares the defences found in section 99(2) of POPI and the common-law defences available to an employer fending off a delictual claim founded on the doctrine of vicarious liability. To support the argument that the statutory vicarious liability created by POPI is is too harsh, the defences contained in section 99(2) of POPI is further analogised with those available to an employer in terms of section 60(4) of the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA) and other comparable foreign data protection statutes. 

 

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Author Biographies

Daleen Millard, Professor of Private law, University of Johannesburg

Department of Private law, professor of Private law

Eugene Gustav Bascerano, Legal Advisor, Office of the General Council, University of Johannesburg.
Legal advisor, UJ

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Google Spain SL, Google Inc v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos (AEP) Mario Costeja Gonzales (case no C-131/12, 13-5-2014).


LEGISLATION
South Africa

Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (as amended).

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998.

Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (as amended).

Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.



Commonwealth

Australian Privacy Act 119 of 1988 (as amended).

New Zealand’s Privacy Act 28 of 1993.

United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act 1998.


International Conventions

Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.
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Published
2017-05-17
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