The new Discovery head office in Sandton. Picture: MASI LOSI
The new Discovery head office in Sandton. Picture: MASI LOSI

Hundreds of Discovery’s clients had their personal information such as names, ID numbers and contact details disclosed in court papers that have been accessed by third parties. However, the insurer has moved swiftly to seal the document to contain possible fallout.

Discovery said on Monday that the data was never publicly disclosed and it had taken steps to comply with the Protection of Personal Information Act.

“The court files themselves have been sealed …. We also requested the record log of who has accessed the court file to date. The file has never been in general filing …. Since the beginning of the matter only two people other than the clerks of court and the parties involved have known the location of the file and we have a record of who they are,” the company said.

The information was furnished as a supporting document to a court challenge that Discovery Life initiated against one of its former financial advisers who has left to join an independent brokerage. While insurers sometimes allow advisers to move their client books with them, Discovery said its clients’ information had been taken without its permission and therefore it had to provide the data in question to the court to prove that theft of client information had taken place.

However, while the sealing of the court document will ensure that no one will  access the files from the court in future, it does not rule out the possibility that the information could be spread wider by those who already have the court documents.

Trishana Ramluckan, an academic from the University of KwaZulu-Natal who is an expert in Protection of Personal Information Act, said that even though the act had not yet been fully implemented, Discovery could be in trouble if the court challenge dragged on beyond the timeline companies have to comply with act.  

“It is a contentious issue. Discovery would be in a lot of trouble if the Protection of Personal Information Act was implemented, but it isn’t fully implemented yet. Clients could be unhappy about this.  However,  the act is not fully implemented, and companies have a 12-month period to comply after it has commenced, which should be soon,” she said.

Discovery said that it notified the affected clients when it filed the court papers that they had been named in its supporting documents but would not elaborate if clients knew the extent of the personal information divulged. 

The Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) general code of conduct prescribes that tied advisers can  take their client base with them only if they have the consent of every client. Clients can move with their adviser if they wish to.

However, Discovery employment contracts strictly prohibit advisers from accessing their clients’ databases unless an agreement had been reached between the two parties.