Warning to election candidates about abusing voter personal information in South Africa

The Information Regulator of South Africa has published a guidance note on how political parties and individual candidates are to use voters’ personal information for campaigning purposes in the lead-up to the 2024 elections.

This is an update to the 2019 national and provincial elections guidance note. Its new guidance features regulations concerning artificial intelligence (AI), as well as misinformation and disinformation used by political campaigns.

The updated guidance note also takes into account the allowance of independent candidates, and the increasing danger of compromise to personal information.

According to the guidance note, electoral candidates assume the responsibilities of responsible parties in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Ac No. 4 of 2013 (POPIA).

It said the electorate should be aware of this to ensure the legal processing of their personal information.

Electoral candidates may only use the personal information of the electorate in accordance with the eight conditions for the lawful processing of information.

This, among other things, mandates that candidates must collect the data from voters themselves if they want to use their personal information.

It may not be gathered from data brokers or lead generators.

The solicitation of donations by electoral candidates falls under the definition of direct marketing according to the POPIA and will be treated accordingly.

However, campaigning for votes does not constitute promoting products or services and is not direct marketing.

The guidance note also states that electoral candidates are responsible for mitigating the spread of disinformation and misinformation by implementing the necessary policies and strategies to do so.

Misinformation refers to inaccurate information, whereas disinformation is deliberately intended to mislead people. Both violate the right to accurate and reliable information.

Electoral candidates have been warned that using generative AI to portray someone’s image or voice without their consent also violates the right to accurate information, which they are responsible for mitigating.

These candidates must investigate any cases of the spread of disinformation and misinformation and take the necessary disciplinary action against staff found engaging in these practices.

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Warning to election candidates about abusing voter personal information in South Africa