The government must address the inconsistent guidance – or in some cases no guidance at all – for how ministers, special advisers and civil servants use WhatsApp.
Banning WhatsApp in government is not practical – between 13% and 31% of officials in some departments have the app installed on their work phones – and it is an efficient way of communicating. However, the speed and accessibility of WhatsApp means decisions can be made too quickly without the full facts or without sufficient input from key individuals, and the practicalities of using WhatsApp in government have now gone unaddressed for too long,
This report calls for the prime minister to uphold guidance stating ministers, special advisers and officials should not use personal phones for substantive government business. This would reduce the risk of important information being lost and help prevent the blurring of boundaries between personal and government business that can – and has – raised questions about propriety and ethics.
Steps must also be taken to tackle weak and inconsistent processes for searching devices, or transferring messages to government systems for storage. As well as calling for the prime minister upholding guidance for ministers, advisers and officials not using personal phones for substantive government business, the report sets out steps government must take to preserve the legitimacy of WhatsApp’s use and ensure that its advantages outweigh its risks:
- Departments manage WhatsApp properly so information gets to all the relevant people and it is not used to make detailed decisions.
- Departments ensure relevant WhatsApp messages are kept for the long term.
- Departments ensure WhatsApp does not hinder transparency or scrutiny.