Info Commissioner: Michael Gove's 'private' emails are subject to FoI

The Information Commissioner has ruled that a private email account belonging to  Education Secretary Michael Gove should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said Gove’s emails should be subject to the act because they dealt with departmental business.

Gove is alleged to have used an account named “Mrs Blurt” to discuss government business with advisers, according to the BBC.

The allegations were made last September by the Financial Times, which said the information was being kept from Department of Education civil servants and the public.

The FT quoted an email from one of Gove’s special advisers saying he would not answer emails to his official department account but would instead use his Gmail account.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner said:

The commissioner’s decision is that the information amounted to departmental business and so was subject to Freedom of Information laws, being held on behalf of the Department for Education.

The department is now required either to disclose the requested information – the subject line of the email and the date and time it was sent – or issue a refusal notice in accordance with the FOI Act giving reasons for withholding it.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said:

The decision closes off two potentially vast loopholes which would have allowed industrial scale evasion of the FOI Act.

The Commissioner has made it clear that government business carried out via private email accounts is subject to FOI – otherwise all departmental business would have switched to hotmail accounts. Information about ‘political’discussions is also covered by the Act, contrary to the  Department’s claims.

What is protected is ‘party political’material, which is deemed to be held on behalf of a political party rather than government itself. The business of government is always political. That cannot be enough to remove it from FOI.

The Department for Education (DfE) is considering an appeal.

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