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by Louise Wilson
22 March 2024
WhatsApp row: Government appoints former data commissioner to review message retention policy

Humza Yousaf announced the review after admitting the WhatsApp row had “not been the government’s finest hour” | Alamy

WhatsApp row: Government appoints former data commissioner to review message retention policy

The former data commissioner of the Channel Islands will review the Scottish Governments’ WhatsApp retention policy.

Emma Martins has been appointed to consider the use of mobile messaging apps and other non-corporate devices, and whether both the ministerial code and civil service guidance should be overhauled.

First Minister Humza Yousaf commissioned the review after concerns were raised about the government failing to retain information sent via WhatsApp and other informal channels during the Covid pandemic.

The Covid inquiry had to make repeated requests for such information and it was revealed earlier this year that former first minister Nicola Sturgeon “had retained no messages whatsoever in connection with her management of the pandemic”.

Repeated references to the deletion of messages by civil servants also surfaced.

This led to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accusing the Scottish Government of creating “a culture of secrecy and cover up, a culture that goes from the first minister down”.

Yousaf at the time admitted the row over deleted WhatsApp messages had “not been the government’s finest hour”, but said the government was committed to transparency.

Martins’ review will examine whether ministers should be able to use WhatsApp and other messaging services to conduct government businesses, what information should be retained if they are to be used, and whether separate guidance on interactions with ministers on messaging apps is required.

Parliamentary business minister George Adam, who has oversight of government transparency, said: “We are committed to openness and transparency and constantly seek to maintain and improve our performance in this area, which is why the first minister commissioned this important external review.”

Martins said: “I am grateful for this opportunity to support the Scottish Government as they reflect on recent events and seek to learn from them.

“In delivering this external review, I will look carefully at the current practices of government with the objective of producing appropriate, meaningful and deliverable recommendations for them going forward.”

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