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WhatsApp messages are deleted by UK authorities.  Should this be allowed?

Nonprofit groups Foxglove and Citizens were given the green light on Tuesday to challenge the use of endangered messages by UK officials, which they called “government by WhatsApp.” Applications such as Signal and WhatsApp, which belong to Facebook (FB), allow users to send messages that automatically disappear after a set amount of time.
Activists accused the government of violating freedom of information laws and the Public Records Act 1958, which requires the government to preserve certain official records in the public interest. They started legal proceedings after writing to the government in March, asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ban disappearance messages.

The Cabinet Office – which backs the prime minister and the cabinet – requires officials to delete WhatsApp chat messages at the end of a conversation, according to campaign groups, which said the rules were revealed for the first time in court on Tuesday.

The Cabinet Office said it did not comment on specific legal cases.

“Ministers will use a range of modern forms of communication for the discussions, in accordance with legislative requirements and taking into account government guidelines,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said Wednesday in response to questions from CNN Business.

Messages that disappear

The scrutiny of the UK government’s communications practices has intensified since Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former senior official, posted Whatsapp messages online in June that appeared to show private conversations with the Prime Minister. That same month, the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) acknowledged that it allowed ministers and officials to set their posts to be deleted instantly.

In July, UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham launched a formal investigation into the use of private correspondence channels at the Department of Health and Social Affairs, claiming that information in private email accounts or services messages are often forgotten, deleted or lost.

“The suggestion of ministers and senior officials using private correspondence channels, such as private email accounts, to conduct sensitive official business is of concern,” Denham said in a statement at the time. “It’s about the public to feel that there may be a loss of transparency about decisions that affect them and their loved ones.”

Foxglove director Cori Crider said on Tuesday the case was the first of its kind and raised “a critical issue in modern government.”

“We are doing this to uphold the integrity of our public debate. We cannot learn from history if the evidence has vanished into thin air,” she said. added.

Clara Maguire, director of Citizens, said a lack of government transparency has contributed to political failures and hampered the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We believe this case goes to the very heart of this problem and we are eager to prove that government by WhatsApp is not only dangerous but also illegal,” she said.


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