Two organisations have raised more than £43,000 towards a legal action over the potential use of disappearing message apps to conduct government business.
The case is being brought by The Citizens, an impact journalism non-profit “focussed on holding governments and big tech to account”, and Foxglove, a non-profit which pursues justice in technology. Their Crowd Justice page can be viewed here. The organisations have set a stretch target of £60,000.
Commenting on the legal action, Foxglove said: “Senior officials - including Prime Minister Boris Johnson – may be using disappearing message apps like WhatsApp and Signal to carry out government business. These apps allow them to delete messages after they’ve read them or minutes later. This lack of transparency is an urgent threat to democratic accountability and to the future of the public record.
"The law that protects government records is the UK Public Records Act 1958. It says that all records about government policy must be reviewed and retained for public archiving. This law covers, for example, messages between a special adviser and a minister about UK Government policy – such as preparations for Brexit or the government response to the coronavirus pandemic. This law requires messages to be retained – so it can be determined whether they should be archived to maintain historical decisions and released to the public.”
Foxglove added: “Our partners The Citizens have already tried to find out more about what is happening. Several requests have been made under the Freedom of Information Act requesting copies of government messages on topics in the public interest. In March, when faced with no reply, the Citizens sent an initial legal letter to the government, raising serious questions and concerns about the use of these apps. To date, and despite chasing, no reply has been received. The next step is a legal challenge to this type of secretive, unaccountable communication.”