UK to Allow Access to Government Emails

5 October 2012

The United Kingdom will require the disclosure of emails and text messages written by government officials.

The move was signaled recently and will be described in new government guidance, according to reports in The Independent and on the BBC.

A  letter from the Department for Education indicates that it will withdraw objections made over the past two years related to private emails. The Education Secretary said his private emails should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The Independent described the colorful background:

It emerged last year that Mr Gove had been using his wife’s private email account under the name “Mrs Blurt” rather than his departmental account to discuss government business with advisers. In one leaked email Mr Gove (pictured with his wife, Sarah) summarised his expectations about a judicial review of his decision to cancel the School Building programme with one word: “AAAARGGGGGHHHH”.

A meeting of Permanent Secretaries concluded that private emails are covered by the FOI law, it was reported.

The BBC’s Chris Mason wrote:

The letter discloses that the new guidance from the Cabinet Office is at “an advanced state and nearing publication”.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office told me: “The guidance will make clear that whether or not information is subject to the Freedom of Information Act depends on the nature of the information and not the format in which it is held.”

See also the commentary in the blog Information Rights and Wrong. Among other thing, the post states:

Some are now predicting that there will be a deluge of FOI requests specifically targeted at information held in private emails, or text messages, and I think this is probably right. What is not clear is how they will be handled.

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