Insights ICO reiterates call for review into use of private messaging apps within government following publication in Telegraph of government WhatsApp messages sent during COVID-19 pandemic


Following reporting by the Telegraph of WhatsApp messages sent during the COVID-19 pandemic by Matt Hancock, former Secretary of State for Health, the ICO issued a statement in which it reiterated its previous call for a review into the use of private messaging apps by government.

The ICO’s statement recognises that there are exemptions to data protection rules in law, including around journalism and for literary purposes in the public interest, which ensure people’s personal information is used properly and fairly and not disclosed inappropriately, and that these exemptions reflect the importance of freedom of expression in society.

Further, according to the statement, the ICO does “not see [publication of the WhatsApp messages] as a matter for the ICO” but says that there are “questions around the conditions on which departing members of Government retain and subsequently use official information which need to be considered by organisations such as the Cabinet Office”.

Further, the ICO says, the coverage does again raise questions about the risks that the use of WhatsApp and other private channels bring, particularly around transparency. The ICO reiterates its call for a review into the use of private messaging apps within government, and we would reiterate that call today. Public officials should be able to show their workings, through proper recording of decisions and through the Freedom of Information Act, to ensure that trust in those decisions is secured and lessons are learnt for the future.