Charity Commission rules out staff using non-approved apps to avoid scrutiny

The Charity Commission has said it would breach its communication policies for officials to conduct business using non-commission software after concerns were raised that government officials could be using non-approved apps to avoid scrutiny. 

The practice of using messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Signal for official government business has been under the microscope since March, following a legal challenge supported by an alliance of transparency campaigners and legal groups. 

Non-profit organisation The Citizens and the campaigning law firm Foxglove have raised concerns that politicians and special advisers could be using such features to avoid accountability. 

A request made by Third Sector under the Freedom of Information Act asked the Charity Commission if and how many staff members used instant or self-destructing messaging software, and what department they worked in.

In its response, the regulator said: “I can confirm that the commission does not hold this information as a request for information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act is for information in recorded form.  

“I would explain that we do not hold this information in recorded form regarding each specific staff member of the commission. 

“I can, however, confirm that all commission business must be conducted on commission systems, including mobiles, and the use of such non-commission software to conduct commission business would be a breach of our policy regarding communicating corporate information.”

The legal challenge against the government appears to be going ahead later this month after a letter from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport was sent to The Citizens, in response to another request made under freedom of information legislation.

The letter said that ministers and civil servants could use self-deleting messaging software, through Google Workspace, and that users could also switch their history off, which means messages would be deleted once a chat session had finished.

The DCMS was targeted by The Citizens because of its responsibility for the National Archives and public records.

The letter from DCMS said the code of practice on the management of records was being updated.

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