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Government by Gmail catches up with UK minister... who is reappointed anyway

Home Secretary 'nominally in charge' of nation's security apologizes for breach of tech protocols

The UK's Home Secretary – the minister in charge of policing and internal security – has been forced to apologize for breaching IT security protocols in government.

Suella Braverman, who had already resigned for the breach, was reinstated in the UK's merry-go-round approach to government. She has written to the chair of Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee to explain her actions and how she planned to avoid repeating them.

The missive details six occasions where she forwarded ministerial documents to her personal Gmail account. On some occasions, she said she needed to do so in order to view documents on her private phone while conducting a Microsoft Teams video call on her official phone.

On another occasion, she accidentally forwarded official documents to a Member of Parliament from her Gmail account because she did not have her phone with her.

In the letter[PDF], Braverman explains that while travelling in a car on October 19, "I did not have my departmental phone (and therefore departmental email) on me at the time. I only had my personal phone and email to hand."

She asked her special advisor to forward documents to her private email account so she could view and edit a Written Ministerial Statement while in transit. She then forwarded the document to Sir John Hayes MP, former security minister, member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and privy counsellor, part of a group of formal sovereign advisers.

"I addressed it to Sir John's parliamentary email and intended to copy his secretary's parliamentary email address. However, I entered the incorrect email address for his secretary unintentionally and unknowingly," the letter said.

The error caught up with Braverman. The email ended up with a member of staff employed by fellow Conservative MP Andrew Percy. He emailed Braverman: "Can you tell me what the Ministerial Code says on this and what the processes are in the Home Office for the sharing of sensitive government documents via Gmail. Simply asking my team to delete this email and ignore it is not an acceptable response to what appears, on the face of it, to be a potentially serious breach of security… I hope an explanation will be forthcoming. You are nominally in charge of the security of this nation, we have received many warnings even as lowly backbenchers about cyber security."

After the chief whip – an MP who polices Parliamentary parties – and the Prime Minister got involved, Braverman resigned in spectacular fashion in the run-up to the departure of former prime minister Liz Truss, who lasted a little less than 45 days.

To the surprise of many, Braverman was reappointed as Home Secretary, but not before some serious IT training, according to the letter.

"I have requested briefing and guidance by security experts on what constitutes appropriate use of Government and personal IT. I have now received this briefing," she assured MPs.

Braverman's admission of an unusual approach to IT security while in government comes after an investigation was launched into the use of WhatsApp channels, with questions raised about decision-making without record-keeping or scrutiny. In July, the Information Commissioner's Office published a report, and wants the Cabinet Office to look into the use of WhatsApp messaging in government as part of a strategic review. ®

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