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UK watchdog seeks review into gov use of WhatsApp

Britain should review the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by ministers and government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the Covid-19 pandemic, its data protection watchdog said.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the review should examine the “systemic risks” around the use of private correspondence channels and to ensure improvements were made.

“I understand the value of instant communication that something like WhatsApp can bring, particularly during the pandemic where officials were forced to make quick decisions and work to meet varying demands.” said John Edwards, the UK Information Commissioner.

“However, the price of using these methods, although not against the law, must not result in a lack of transparency and inadequate data security,” he added.

The recommendation follows a year-long investigation into the use of such messaging channels by government ministers and officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during the Covid pandemic.

The IOC said the investigation found a “lack of clear controls” and the potential of important information “being lost or insecurely handled”.

Australia has previously battled with how to deal with government use of WhatsApp, particularly for record-keeping and information accessibility purposes.

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