Panic as ministers are warned they may have to disclose personal emails
David Cameron and his most senior aides face being forced to open up their private email accounts to see if they contain details of sensitive government business hidden from the Civil Service. A meeting of permanent secretaries yesterday discussed ordering a "trawl" of personal email accounts held by Mr Cameron, senior aides and government ministers to see if they contain messages which fall within the remit of the Freedom of Information Act, The Independent understands.
Last night a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office, which polices the Act, confirmed that information in private emails could fall within the scope of the Act if they pertained to government business. That is likely to lead to a flood of Freedom of Information requests to No 10 and other departments. In the face of this advice, Whitehall mandarins have discussed how the Government can establish the extent to which personal email accounts have been used by ministers for official purposes.
One senior government source said: "Whitehall is in a tailspin. It appears as if the Cabinet Office has been giving conflicting advice to different departments. It is a complete mess and it is going to blow up in our faces."
It is not yet known whether ministers will be able to "self certify" their own email accounts or whether they will have to provide access to officials for them to scrutinise. A Downing Street source stressed that no decision had been taken by the permanent secretaries and said it was unclear whether ministers would have the right to restrict access to their accounts under the Data Protection Act.
The move comes the day after emails were made public showing that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had used an account registered in his wife's name to correspond about government business. In one email he wrote: "Where are we on phonics/age six reading test implementation plans?" Mr Gove also asks to see documents submitted by the permanent secretary and two named civil servants.
In another email Mr Gove summarises his expectations about a judicial review of his decision to cancel the schools building programme with a single word: "AAAARGGGGGHHHH".
It also emerged that political advisers in his office had become so worried about leaks that they stopped using official accounts for correspondence and switched to private accounts instead.
The Independent understands this practice extends beyond the Department for Education. Many special advisers and ministers are using personal accounts to communicate with the media and for sensitive correspondence that they want to keep away from the Civil Service. Downing Street claimed the Prime Minister did not use his private email in this way.
"This Government already has a reputation for leaks and there is a suspicion that some of them may be coming from Labour-supporting officials," said one government adviser. "That's why many people have taken to sensitive discussions on private emails."
An Information Commissioner's Office spokesman said: "It is certainly possible that some information in private emails could fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act if it concerns government business."
South Korea ferry passengers who were told to stay put 'got trapped' aboard sinking ship
Are beards attractive? Ryan Gosling says yes, but science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge and find out who's right
Malaysia Airlines MH370 co-pilot's phone 'was on and made contact with network tower' 30 minutes after plane turned around
Andre Johnson: Wu-Tang Clan-discovered rapper severed his penis and jumped from LA building
Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence witness 'unqualified' to testify
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Poveglia: 'World's most haunted island' up for sale...is anyone brave enough to buy it?
- 2 Big Bang Theory to get special Star Wars episode with help from Lucasfilm
- 3 Babies cry at night to stop mothers procreating, scientists claim
- 4 Pharrell Williams 'Happy': British Muslims dance to song in video
- 5 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...