ICO calls for review, reprimands DHSC for use of private messaging

12/07/2022 | ICO

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued an official reprimand to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and has called for a government review into whether it is appropriate for personal email and messaging apps like WhatsApp to be used to conduct government business. In a statement, John Edwards said: “Public officials should be able to show their workings, for both record keeping purposes and to maintain public confidence. That is how trust in those decisions is secured and lessons are learnt for the future."

The actions outlined in a new report: Behind the screens - maintaining government transparency and data security in the age of messaging apps, followed a 12-month investigation launched by former Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. At the time, The Guardian reported on the investigation amid allegations Lord Bethell had replaced his mobile phone before it could be searched concerning contracts worth £85m.

The report findings conclude that private messaging usage by Ministers and staff employed by DHSC was extensive, without the appropriate organisational or technical controls to ensure effective security, risk management and transparency. Furthermore, DHSC's policies were inconsistent with the Cabinet Office, particularly concerning codes of practice under FOI.

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