Government by WhatsApp impact on transparency

01/11/2023 | Financial Times

UK politicians have been accused of using easily deleted WhatsApp messages for official business instead of keeping a formal record of their conversations, according to the official Covid Inquiry

The inquiry has uncovered embarrassing exchanges between former ministers and officials, leading to questions around the need for smartphone records of senior politicians to be kept indefinitely for future scrutiny. Alice Lilly, senior researcher at the Institute for Government think-tank, has described the use of WhatsApp by politicians as a "new manifestation of an old problem" and a replacement for informal conversations once held "in smoke-filled corridors". 

The inquiry has also raised concerns over privacy for those who make difficult decisions. In Scotland, the use of WhatsApp by ministers and officials during the pandemic has led to accusations of deleted conversations. 

Under government guidelines, ministers or officials must keep a formal record of when they use WhatsApp for government business by taking screenshots or contemporaneous notes of the conversation. However, many sidestep the rules by claiming discussions fail to meet the threshold. 

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