Scottish Government secrecy over ministers' use of WhatsApp raises alarm bells – Scotsman comment

Given the widespread use of insecure, personal communication methods by politicians of all stripes across the world, it is not perhaps surprising that six Scottish Government ministers used WhatsApp to carry out official business this year.

WhatsApp may be a convenient means of communication but smartphones can be hacked (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
WhatsApp may be a convenient means of communication but smartphones can be hacked (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

However, it should be no less shocking for at least two reasons. Firstly, the CalMac ferries scandal shows the dangers to good governance of failing to keep a proper record of decisions, with Audit Scotland finding there was “insufficient documentary evidence” to explain why the Scottish Government gave the contract to the Ferguson Marine shipyard without a full refund guarantee.

And secondly, apps and personal emails are vulnerable to being hacked by criminal gangs, hostile states and those engaged in industrial espionage.

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If Scottish politicians think they could not be targeted in this way, they are being recklessly naive.

They would not be the only ones.

Reports that Liz Truss’s phone was hacked while she was Foreign Secretary, with those responsible able to read messages she had sent to officials about the Ukraine War, among other matters, highlighted just one example of many of senior figures, who should know better, being caught out.

The Scottish Government, which has a poor track record on freedom of information, is not releasing the messages, not on security grounds, but because it would apparently be too expensive to find them all.

That in itself appears to raise issues of transparency, and opposition politicians are rightly asking questions.

This may still be the dawn of the Internet Age, but the need for secure communications should be crystal clear to anyone who walks the corridors of power. Scotland’s ministerial code warns ministers to be “particularly mindful of the vulnerabilities” of mobile phones and IT systems and take “all reasonable steps” to “ensure the security of government information”.

The revelation that six ministers have been using WhatsApp raises alarm bells, but official secrecy over who they are and what they have been saying means there is no way of finding out whether proper records were kept or if sensitive information was put at risk.

Unless the government shows greater openness, voters may suspect the worst.



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