The Information Commissioner has “raised concerns” about Education Secretary Michael Gove and a number of his closest advisers over their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, following claims they used their personal emails to conduct government business.
The Financial Times (behind paywall) said it had forwarded evidence to the Information Commissioner’s Offices (ICO) showing “systematic use of private emails, which conceal sensitive information from the education department’s own civil servants and the public”.
The FT reported that the use of private email accounts for government business was not against the law if ministers and officals disclosed it, but added:
However, it is illegal intentionally to conceal information concerning government business from those seeking public documents using the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act].
The FT claimed it had seen email traffic showing Gove and his advisers carrying out government business via a personal email but that “civil servants were then unable to find these emails when asked to retrieve them under the Freedom of Information Act”.
Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham, told the paper:
Mr Gove must make an urgent statement to clarify whether, at all times, his department has followed the letter of the law.
The FT cites one example in which special adviser Dominic Cummings stated that he “will not answer any further emails to my official DfE account”, before explaining that ‘i will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who i know who they are. i suggest that you do the same in general but thats obv up to you guys – i can explain in person the reason for thisâ€‰…â€‰”
A spokesman for the ICO told the Press Association that had not launched an investigation, adding:
The Information Commissioner has written to the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education to raise concerns about the department’s handling of freedom of information requests. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.