Greensill lobbying scandal: More than 100 government phones wiped after users entered wrong PINs

Politics

More than 100 government-issued mobile phones had all their data wiped last year after their users entered the wrong PIN.

The Treasury’s IT desk managed to reset 117 of its approximately 2,100 mobile phones in 2020 – including the device belonging to the department’s boss – a response to a Freedom of Information request from the PA news agency revealed.

Texts sent from the phones involved are likely to have been lost.

All eyes on the Treasury as Rishi Sunak's 2021 Budget draws closer
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Messages lost include those sent between the Treasury’s permanent secretary Tom Scholar and former prime minister David Cameron

They include correspondence between the Treasury’s permanent secretary Tom Scholar and former prime minister David Cameron over the Greensill lobbying scandal.

MPs have called for these messages to be released.

Mr Cameron had contacted Treasury officials to ask them to allow the company Greensill Capital, which has since collapsed, to be included in one of the government’s coronavirus loan schemes.

MPs have said publishing the texts is in the “public interest”.

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But Mr Scholar has maintained that he is unable to disclose the content of his messages to Mr Cameron, due to his phone having been wiped and questions continue to be raised.

“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,” Mr Scholar told a hearing of the Treasury select committee.

Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, pictured in May
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Reports have suggested that Matt Hancock used a private email for government business

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 change their passwords frequently, however the Treasury has not confirmed how often these changes are required.

The government has recently come under increased scrutiny over its transparency procedures, with the Good Law Project last week announcing that it would take legal action over ministers’ use of private email addresses and WhatsApp accounts to do government work.

In the wake of former health secretary Matt Hancock’s resignation following his breaking of COVID rules with an aide, it had been reported that he and health minister Lord Bethell had used private email accounts to conduct government business.

The Sunday Times reported that Lord Bethell used personal emails to sponsor a parliamentary pass for Mr Hancock’s lover Gina Coladangelo between April and October last year.

Labour has called for an investigation into the matter.

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