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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Latest: Oct. 15, 2021

Permission has been granted!

On Tuesday All the Citizens, supported by Foxglove, were in court for a “permission hearing”. In fantastic news, the judge granted us permission and we will now proceed to a full judicial…

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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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Update 6

Foxglove and The Citizens

Oct. 15, 2021

Permission has been granted!

On Tuesday All the Citizens, supported by Foxglove, were in court for a “permission hearing”. In fantastic news, the judge granted us permission and we will now proceed to a full judicial review hearing into government by WhatsApp!

The case is the first of its kind anywhere and aims to stop ministers communicating about government business over apps like WhatsApp and Signal, where messages can be set to vanish into thin air. Government by WhatsApp is a real threat to our democracy and the public record. 

Thank you to everyone who has donated. Your donations have made this case possible. On Tuesday, the judge also granted All the Citizens a protective costs order. That means if All the Citizens lose their case, they will only be liable for the amount they have raised.  

We don’t yet have a date for the full hearing – but we will let you know as soon as we do! Thanks for being part of it. You can help further by signing our petition here and you can see an update from our team outside the court on Tuesday here

Update 5

Foxglove and The Citizens

Sept. 13, 2021

Update: We’re going to court

Thanks to everyone who’s supported our case taking on government by WhatsApp! We have good news and bad news for our backers: over the summer holiday, Deputy Judge Allen denied our application for permission on the papers. This means that instead of our case being heard in court with argument from our barristers and debate on the evidence, the judge decided the government had no case to answer on the papers submitted. 

This regularly happens in judicial review.  And the fight is far from over. We’re challenging the decision by going to a full permission hearing, and we have a court date: 12 October. 

We respectfully disagree with the decision for several reasons. The most important is that our case forced the government to disclose new evidence on disappearing messages – evidence on which we’ve not been heard.  

When the government filed its opposition to our case, it admitted for the first time that it had several secret policies on disappearing messages 

Here you can read news reports in the Times and Daily Mail on just one of these revelations – showing Boris Johnson has been ignoring his own secret policy banning ministers from using personal WhatsApp or email for government business 

But there’s more to come. The case has exposed even more troubling evidence - not yet public - showing the problem with government by WhatsApp is worse still. 

The good news: we now get to argue all of this at a full court hearing. We’ve filed a renewal application for permission.  This means we’ll have a chance to be heard for the first time on the new evidence our case has exposed.  

We look forward to the hearing on 12 October, and these new facts will be public then. 

Thank you for your support – we will keep you updated.

Update 4

Foxglove and The Citizens

July 16, 2021

We've brought the first-ever lawsuit over government use of WhatsApp and Signal

We’ve filed the first ever lawsuit challenging ‘government by WhatsApp’! The Citizens, with Foxglove’s support, are suing the government to stop ministers making major decisions over apps like WhatsApp and Signal, where messages can be set to disappear. 

Since we started this case, yet more evidence has emerged of critical government business being done via WhatsApp. Dominic Cummings released screenshots of WhatsApp discussions on the failures of the test and trace system and the cost of ventilators. The Byline Times quoted a government source saying “The entire COVID-19 response was being conducted over WhatsApp messages.”

This type of communication poses a major political and legal problem, because evidence of critical government decisions – such as evidence for the future Covid inquiry – may be lost. 

This is unlawful under the Public Records Act of 1958 which requires legal checks to be made on all such messages in case they need to be kept for the public interest. That’s why we are going to court!

Today was an important milestone in this case and this has only been possible thanks to the support of the thousands of you that have already donated. Please continue to share this page and donate what you can. 

We will keep you posted on the next steps in the case as soon as possible. Thanks for being part of it. 

Foxglove and the Citizens

Update 3

Foxglove and The Citizens

July 13, 2021

We are preparing the case!


Huge thanks to all of you who have donated so far.

We are in the process of preparing our legal papers and we are about to issue our judicial review. We have just £15,000 to raise to reach our stretch target. Please help us get there by sharing and donating whatever you can afford.

In good news, last week the UK’s data protection authority the ICO announced it was launching an investigation into the use of private correspondence channels by government officials. This shows once again we were on to something back in March when we launched this case.

We will keep you posted. 

Best wishes,

Foxglove and the Citizens

Update 2

Foxglove and The Citizens

May 25, 2021

An update!


With a huge thanks to all of you we have reached our fundraising target! Thank you so much.

Here is a quick case update too. We were due to receive a reply from the government on Monday, but they’ve missed yet another deadline. Why won’t they tell us how they’re planning to fix Government by WhatsApp?

We need to keep the spotlight on them. The pressure is working. We will share an update as soon as we receive their reply.

Thank you for being part of this case.

Foxglove and The Citizens

Update 1

Foxglove and The Citizens

May 14, 2021

Thank you for your support so far!

A huge thank you to the thousands of people who’ve donated so far. This case will only be possible with support from people like you.  

We have just 8 days left to reach our fundraising target. Please continue to donate what you can and share this page.   

Foxglove and The Citizens are both small non-profits and together we need to raise £40,000. The stakes are high. We simply won't be able to hold the government to account without you. 

We believe the government's use of disappearing message apps is unlawful and harmful to our democracy.  

An Update on the Case 

On the 26th May we sent a letter before claim to the Secretary of State. This is called a ‘pre-action protocol letter’. In this letter our lawyers set out our legal arguments, we gave him 14 days to reply. His lawyers have now written back to us and asked for more time to reply, to which we’ve reluctantly agreed.  

What Next?  

The government will reply to our legal letter shortly, we will then review what they’ve told us and if we aren't satisfied, we will lodge a judicial review claim with the court. At this point we will ask for ‘permission’ from a judge, to proceed to a full hearing.  

We will continue to update you as our case progresses. In the meantime, please do share this page with your friends and family and on social media to help us have the best chance of success.  

Thanks for being part of it,  

Foxglove and The Citizens

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