After This Site and others raised concerns that Downing Street staff were being ordered to remove information they had received about lockdown-breaking parties, the information watchdog has barked.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has warned staff that removing such messages could be a criminal offence:
“Relevant information that exists in the private correspondence channels of public authorities should be available and included in responses to information requests received.
“Erasing, destroying or concealing information within scope of a Freedom of Information request, with the intention of preventing its disclosure is a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act.”
As it is, it seems an investigation may be launched into who gave the order to erase the information.
In fact, it seems likely that any removal of the information from individual phones will not wipe it out of existence but will merely criminalise the owner of the phone for trying to do so.
Messages sent using services such as WhatsApp are stored on a cloud server – not the recipient’s device(s) – and may be recovered by the authorities under circumstances including a legal investigation.
This Writer is not sure whether the same is true of SMS messaging, although I am sure that experts are able to recover information that has been removed by users who pressed the “delete” button but have not deep-cleaned the storage system on which the message had been placed.
I shall be keen to hear if anybody has received the alleged order to erase data, if they acted on it, and if they will be prosecuted for it. I also want to know who send this alleged order and what will happen to them.
Ultimately, we need to know who authorised this alleged message in the first place. And what penalty will they face?