Guidance regarding Ministerial correspondence: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

1. Any and all documents the Scottish Government holds on procedures/mechanisms/methods/processes for officials to access/request private emails and whatsapps when an FOI request has been made for ministerial correspondence.

If the requests I have asked for are above the cost threshold, please help me on the best way to narrow it down into smaller sections.

Furthermore, could any data be delivered in the excel format, not PDF.


The guidance below was shared by the former Permanent Secretary in response to the Information Commissioner in 2019 and is still extant.

Scottish Government policy on private emails
Guidance, which was updated in 2019 [pre COVID] to reflect changes due to the proliferation of social media applications at that time and is available to all Scottish Government staff and Scottish Ministers

  • The Scottish Government has always recognised that FOI applies to all types of recorded information from any source.
  • Where official information - that is information relating to the business of the SG - is held in private accounts or on private devices, it is subject to the Act.
  • A case-handler should ask anyone who may hold relevant information to check their personal accounts and devices to ensure that all appropriate searches have taken place.
  • There should be a record of the action taken - we need to be able to demonstrate, if required, that appropriate searches have taken place.
  • Personal accounts include, but are not limited to: email accounts, social media accounts (eg Facebook, Twitter), text messaging, mobile messaging (eg WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat), cloud storage and use of collaboration tools.
  • Personal devices include, but are not limited to: PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile telephones.
  • Although we often focus on information held electronically, FOISA covers official information recorded in any form, so ‘hard copy’ held in pads, notebooks etc, is also subject to the Act

The following guidance is currently on the Scottish Government intranet site ‘Saltire’.

Conducting your FOI search
Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) (Scotland) Act, all information in scope must be considered for release, irrespective of where it is held. This includes work done on personal devices, work-related exchanges on WhatsApp and – if it’s still held in the chat function – MS Teams. MS Teams keeps our chat for five days. If a related FOI comes in during that period, the text should be copied, saved and considered for release.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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