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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A deliberate attempt to avoid scrutiny?

If it wasnt bad enough that some Ministers have been governing using WhatsApp and private phones, the Guardian has revealed that government rules on these messages are creating a failure of transparency and accountability.

The paper says that ministers and civil servants are required by policy to set instant messaging chats to delete automatically, in violation of British law on public records and freedom of information. A legal challenge by the not-profit organisation the Citizens seeks to overturn this process.

They are concerned that the likes of WhatsApp and Signal, which have a disappearing messages option, are being used to avoid scrutiny of decision-making processes, including on significant issues such as the government’s coronavirus response:

At a high court hearing in London on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Cabinet Office’s “information and records retention and destruction policy”, disclosed in response to the Citizens application for a judicial review, obliges officials to delete instant chats.

The policy says: “Instant messaging is provided to all staff and should be used in preference to email for routine communications where there is no need to retain a record of the communication. Instant messages history in individual and group chats must be switched off and should not be retained once a session is finished. If the content of an instant message is required for the record or as an audit trail, a note for the record should be created and the message content saved in that.”

The Citizens says making a separate note, as opposed to preserving the actual message, is insufficient to comply with the law. Other documents disclosed ban the use of personal phones, email and WhatsApp by ministers and civil servants. The Citizens, which is being supported by the campaigning law group Foxglove, says the policies are “a confusing, contradictory mess”.

It is challenging the lawfulness of:
  • Use for government business of instant messaging services that allow messages to be automatically deleted, permanently, within a short period of receipt by ministers, civil servants and special advisers. 
  • Cabinet Office policy requiring the use of automatic deletion within all instant messaging services. 
  • Use for government business of personal devices, email and communications applications in breach, it says, of the government’s own policies.
After Mrs Justice Lang granted permission for the case to go to full judicial review, Clara Maguire, the director of the Citizens, said: “This is a good day for democracy. Lack of transparency has been at the heart of the UK government’s disastrous handling of the Covid catastrophe as today’s parliamentary report points out so clearly.

We will have to see how this plays out now.
The only thing I would disagree with in this article is the Headline. It should be "Another deliberate attempt to avoid scrutiny!"

My motto is "Be Bold. Be forthright. Be a Lib Dem!"

Politically measured phrases don't get noticed (except by anoraks).
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