Stop Government by Exploding Message

by Foxglove and The Citizens

Stop Government by Exploding Message

by Foxglove and The Citizens
Foxglove and The Citizens
Case Owner
The Citizens is an impact journalism non-profit focussed on holding governments and big tech to account. Foxglove is a non-profit who pursue justice in technology.
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Foxglove and The Citizens
Case Owner
The Citizens is an impact journalism non-profit focussed on holding governments and big tech to account. Foxglove is a non-profit who pursue justice in technology.
Pledge now

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Senior officials - including Prime Minister Boris Johnson – may be using disappearing message apps like WhatsApp and Signal to carry out government business. These apps allow them to delete messages after they’ve read them or minutes later. This lack of transparency is an urgent threat to democratic accountability and to the future of the public record.

What's at stake?

A ‘government by WhatsApp or Signal’ is undemocratic – and unlawful. So the Citizens, supported by Foxglove, are gearing up to take the government to court. 

The law that protects government records is the UK Public Records Act 1958.  It says that all records about government policy must be reviewed and retained for public archiving. This law covers, for example, messages between a special adviser and a minister about UK Government policy – such as preparations for Brexit or the government response to the coronavirus pandemic. This law requires messages to be retained – so it can be determined whether they should be archived to maintain historical decisions and released to the public. 

The Citizens have already tried to find out more about what is happening. Several requests have been made under the Freedom of Information Act requesting copies of government messages on topics in the public interest. In March, when faced with no reply, the Citizens sent an initial legal letter to the government, raising serious questions and concerns about the use of these apps. To date, and despite chasing, no reply has been received. The next step is a legal challenge to this type of secretive, unaccountable communication. To take this government to Court, we need your help.  

How can you help?

Please support our crowdfunder with whatever you can afford to help us end the use of unlawful exploding messages. A Government of WhatsApp and Signal is undemocratic and unlawful. This evidence belongs to the people and to history. 

How do we know that this type of communication is happening? 

There have been reports and Parliamentary debates which suggest that a growing share of government business is done on instant messaging services. 

What is the aim of the legal challenge?

We will be asking the courts to put a stop to government ministers and advisors from using exploding or disappearing messages to conduct government business.  

Why do we need to raise money? 

Our legal team work on ‘conditional fee agreements’. That means they only recover their costs from the other side if we win. But if we lose in court, we could have to pay the other side's costs. The Citizens are asking the court for a “Cost Capping Order”. If the court grants that it means that there would be a limit on the amount, we can be forced to pay in the event we lose. To make this case possible we need to raise as much as possible. 

What happens to funds raised if we don’t spend it on legal fees? 

If for some reason we don’t need to spend all the donations on this case (e.g., if the government caves in early) then all donations will be split evenly between The Citizens and Foxglove. 

The team 

The Citizens are the claimants in this case. That means it is taking on the government in court.  

They are supported by Foxglove. Foxglove is a non-profit that exists to make tech fair. 

Our case is being taken by a fantastic team of lawyers, including Rosa Curling at Scott-Moncrieff & Associates and Director of Foxglove, Ben Jaffey QC of Blackstone Chambers and George Molyneaux of Blackstone Chambers.



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