The Treasury wiped all data from more than 100 UK Government-issued mobile phones last year because their users, including the department’s boss, entered the wrong Pin code.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Treasury said that its IT desk reset 117 of its approximately 2100 mobile phones in 2020.
With each reset, texts sent from those phones are likely to have been lost. This includes messages sent by Tom Scholar, the department’s permanent secretary, which MPs have said should be released.
Earlier this year, Scholar was asked to disclose the communications he had with former prime minister and lobbyist David Cameron.
Cameron had contacted old colleagues from his time in government to convince them to allow now-collapsed Greensill Capital to be included in a Bank of England loan scheme.
Questions were raised about what was said between Cameron and officials, and what – if anything – he had been promised.
But Scholar said he was unable to tell MPs what his texts to Cameron said because they had been wiped from his mobile phone.
“At the beginning of June last year, (the phone) had to be reset because, under government security as applies to mobile phones, if the password is incorrectly entered more than a few times, the phone is locked, and the only way to unlock it is to reset it,” he said.
He added: “Resetting it means that the data on it is lost. I knew that when it happened last June, and I am certainly not the only person to whom that has happened.”
Users of government phones are required to frequently change their passwords. The Treasury refused to say how often such changes are required, citing security concerns.
During a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee, one MP said there was a “public interest” in publishing Scholar’s text messages. Under Freedom of Information laws, the Treasury or other government departments can be required to publish texts that deal with government business.
The government has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks over transparency procedures.
On Friday last week, the Good Law Project said that it would take legal action over ministers’ use of private email addresses and WhatsApp accounts to do government work.
“We don’t just think this situation is wrong, we believe it’s unlawful. It flies in the face of government’s legal obligations to preserve official records, and undermines its ability to comply with Freedom of Information requests and the duty of candour required by the courts,” it said.