Australia’s government and key cabinet officials appear to be using over-the-top messaging services like WhatsApp to communicate with each other on their government-issued smartphones despite the app not being sanctioned by the Australian Signals Directorate , possibly presenting a security risk. Attorney-General George Brandis doesn’t think it’s a big issue and says the communications are “unremarkable” and unclassified, with nothing discussed of public sensitivity that might be at risk.
Last week, SMH reported that WhatsApp usage was widespread throughout all levels of government in Canberra, including use by government chiefs of staff and federal cabinet ministers to communicate in groups. Yesterday, during Senate estimates, government attorney-general George Brandis was quizzed by estimates panel member and Opposition senator Penny Wong on the widespread use of the app despite it not being approved for secure communications.
The advice that government has received from the Defense Signals Directorate — Australia’s national signals intelligence and information security agency, which operates both inside and outside the country’s borders — is that over-the-top messaging apps like WhatsApp, developed by two former Yahoo employees and now owned by Facebook, are appropriate for communications that are unclassified and not sensitive. That, Brandis says, is what the apps are being used for. Recently appointed information security adviser Alastair Macgibbon says that the WhatsApp chats between individuals and groups within government are routine and no different to text messages or phone calls.
“The prime minister has indicated he is well aware of what he can and can’t use it for,” DPMC deputy secretary told the panel. According to DPMC, any material transmitted through WhatsApp is accessible through the same Freedom of Information laws that govern other government communications. DPMC executive secretary Elizabeth Kelly took a question on notice on exactly how the government would pull those records in response to any such request, though. [iTNews / SMH]