MP slams Cabinet Office's email destruction

Anti-spam lobbyist Derek Wyatt MP is angry that the Cabinet Office is deleting millions of emails just days before the Freedom of Information Act comes into force

The chairman of the All Party Internet Group has slammed the Cabinet Office for deleting millions of emails from its systems days before they would have been available to the public.

MP Derek Wyatt, who is currently leading a parliamentary charge to ban spam, said on Tuesday he would be disappointed if the government had resorted to clearing inboxes as a way of avoiding embarrassment from the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

"It's wrong," said Wyatt. "Everyone knew about the Freedom of Information three years ago. Everyone signed up for it. The whole idea was to open up government and bureaucracy. If they have been deleting emails then I'm disappointed. End of story. We as MPs have been scrutinised on expenses for years. Why shouldn't the government?"

The Cabinet Office claimed yesterday it was deleting millions of emails to save taxpayers' money. Officials from the Prime Minister's right-hand office insisted the move was part of an ongoing management policy and not a way of ducking the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

But treasurer of APIG and chairman of European Internet security lobbyist EURIM Brian White MP backed the Cabinet Office, even though he believes it is deleting emails in preparation for the Freedom of Information Act.

"Some of it I would expect is in preparation for the FoI," said White. "But that's not odd when there are remaining cases. The question is whether it's the right balance. I would question whether they are approaching it with more zeal than is reasonable. We always knew there would be a tidy up. But that's reasonable."

Private sector organisations such as financial services companies have to comply with strict auditing regulations, such as Basel II and Sarbanes Oxley, which dictate that all emails must be retained for seven years. If those companies are found to have destroyed data in connection with an audit trail, the chief executive of the firm can face a jail sentence.

But the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS) has said employees could be leaving themselves open to legal problems by deleting emails, because they may destroy records of what they have been ordered to do.

"It really is an odd thing to do," said Philip Virgo, strategic advisor to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. "Either you don’t keep emails at all or you have a policy of auto-archiving them. But blanket deletion after three months is unusual."

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