I Want to Know…

I Want to know about government department’s Gmail and WhatsApp accounts…

Q: Can I ask for communication records from Gmail and WhatsApp accounts used as an alternative to official government email accounts?

A: Yes. The PATI Act says that a record can be in any form or medium.

In response to the ongoing cybersecurity incident, some public officers had to transition immediately to using mobile phones and alternative email accounts to maintain the continuity of government services. Other departments quickly established new Gmail accounts as a temporary measure.  Regardless of the device or platform used, these electronic communications are public records that reflect government decision making and business.

These records could be subject to the PATI Act and possible public disclosure if a PATI request is made for access to them. In addition, personal non-work email accounts may be subject to the PATI Act if a public officer used their personal email account for public authority business. However, this does not mean that all of the information within that individual’s personal email account will be subject to the PATI Act, only the emails involving a public authority’s business. The same considerations apply to personal non-public authority WhatsApp messaging accounts that may have been used for public authority-related communications.

In case you missed it, Commissioner Gutierrez issued a statement on the impact of the government cybersecurity incident and a guidance for requesters and public authorities on the PATI process following the cyber security incident.