2nd day in court: Court hears government by WhatsApp isn’t a problem – and that citizens have no right to challenge it
Lawyers for the government told London’s High Court today that official policies on disappearing message apps like WhatsApp are for Ministers and officials to follow – or not – as they see fit.
If ministers ignore these rules, the government’s top barrister argued, ordinary citizens concerned with democracy have no right to go to Court to enforce them.
Why, you ask? Because – although the Public Records Act requires public officials “to make arrangements for the selection of those records which ought to be permanently preserved and for their safe-keeping,” he claimed the rules on how to do this are “just policies” – not enforceable by public interest groups or ordinary people.
This is a troubling claim by the government, and we disagree.
It’s already clear that Ministers aren’t reliably preserving our public records – critical documents are being lost.
We now know, for example, the famous messages screenshotted from WhatsApp by the prime minister’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings were never recorded onto any internal government system.
It’s impossible to know how much essential evidence to the Covid inquiry has been lost in this way.
This case matters; it goes to the delicate balance of power between citizens and our representatives. Preserving the integrity of our public record is a key part of that.
It’s also especially striking in the context of the war in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin seeks to control Russia’s people by controlling their access to the truth, via the usual tools of the dictator: censorship, misinformation, and outright lies. The aim is clear: to ensure his people never knowing the truth about his actions.
Britain is different. We trust our elected representatives and government to make life-and-death decisions for us because our democracy is, in theory, open – and citizens are armed with the information they need to hold officials to account.
That falls apart if we can’t know, or understand, the decisions being made in our name.
If vital evidence is deleted or lost because messages on a minister’s personal phone were never saved, that precious bargain at the core of our democracy is under threat.
We’re proud to be bringing this case with The Citizens. Hit the button below to add your name to the petition supporting this case.