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Enforce existing whatapp rules, think tank tells government

A think tank has called for the government to enforce its own rules on Whatsapp use.

Using an existing policy on messaging apps could curb poor behaviour and reduce reputational risk, a Whitehall think tank has said.

The Institute for Government urged the government to enforce its own security rules in a bid to reduce incidents where standards have been compromised.

It follows a series of incidents across government and the jailing of a Metropolitan Police officer for sharing images of a murder scene.

The think tank said government departments to needed to enforce its own Security of Government Business policy to reduce incidents where standards – and security – are compromised.

Created in 2013, the security policy framework describes the standards, best-practice guidelines and approaches that are required to protect UK government assets.

It also sets out “a proportionate and risk-managed approach to security that enables government business to function effectively, safely and securely”.

But the guidance also warns: “Attitudes and behaviours are fundamental to good security. The right security culture, proper expectations and effective training are essential.”

It adds government organisations must “protect against, detect and correct malicious behaviour”.

The Institute for Government said behaviour is a critical issue for Whitehall departments – including the Home Office - in how they address use of WhatsApp groups.

Report author Tim Durrant said: “Officials need to build a culture that fully complies with the requirements placed on those in public life by the law and by public expectations. If poor behaviour is endemic, that will be reflected in the use of technology – but the opposite will also be true. WhatsApp is not going away, so government needs to make sure it is using it properly.”

He also advised for government to create a single standard policy as some are running their own rules which others are referring to central guidance from the Cabinet Office.

“The varied approaches by departments means it is hard for officials to know what rules apply to them, and risk them not being enforced. Departments should take a more unified approach – recognising the benefits that WhatsApp can bring while also managing the downsides.”

Chiefs are already looking at the use of mobile phones by officers following a spate of misconduct cases where officers had been sharing inappropriate comments or images.

The Metropolitan Police was involved in two high profile cases which led to officers being sacked.

Acting Commissioner Sir Stephen House last week told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the force is looking at software that would monitor phones for key words. The force says it could be in place by next year.

“This would sit above our systems and would look at internal emails for keywords that were alarming, would check use of Metropolitan Police mobile phones that we have issued to our officers to check for the same thing, would look at the amount of overtime that is being worked,” he said.  

But senior officials have also warned monitoring won't stop bad cops being signed up in the first place.

Outgoing HMI chief Sir Tom Winsor in his final report warned the volume of new recruits and a backlog of vetting has created a future challenge for policing.

But the proposals have appalled officers who have warned the force could be breaching human rights.

And frontline officers say the critical failures have involved personal mobile phones not force-issued devices.

Police Federation Chair Steve Hartshorn warned any changes by forces should also apply to everyone involved in policing – including government ministers.

He said: “Human rights apply to everyone. Just because you’re a police officer, you shouldn’t have your human rights violated. Should everyone be punished for the sins of the few? Does it apply to Police and Crime Commissioners? To the government? Where does it stop?”

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