The Sun today has claimed that David Cameron and his ‘inner circle’ have been plotting their dastardly Remain campaign using WhatsApp, so they can avoid both FOI and leaks :
DAVID Cameron’s inner circle are sending group texts using the WhatsApp service to keep details of how they are running the EU Remain campaign secret for all time. Ministers and the PM’s most senior aides are keeping discussions of their campaign plans off official Downing Street emails.
It is claimed that a similar thing was done during the planning of the 2015 General Election. Cameron joins a growing list of politicians who have been in trouble over their alleged attempts to use non-FOI-able communication channels, from Sarah Palin (see the underwhelming live blog), to (most famously) Hillary Clinton and even Leave campaign heavyweight Michael Gove who fought a long battle to keep private emails (containing government business) secret.
So is WhatsApp covered by FOI? Probably it is. The rulings from the ICO in the Gove case seemed to indicate that even a private communication channel is subject to FOI if used for government work-see the ruling here. We’ll soon find out, as someone has already put in an FOI to the Home Office and Labour have also called on the ICO to investigate and proposed that social media be included under FOI legislation.
However, I’m not convinced it’s FOI Cameron is avoiding and, as ever, people mix up FOI and leaks. WhatsApp prides itself on its strict end-to-end encryption policy. I think Cameron likes WhatsApp because, barring accidents and stolen phones, it’s the closest thing to leak proof he can find.