Australian prime minister runs private e-mail server, uses Confide and Wickr

(credit: @TurnbullMalcolm)

Australia’s new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has confirmed that he is still running a private e-mail server located outside the federal parliament’s secure network, which he set up some years ago while Minister for Communications in the preceding Abbott government. However, he insisted that he does not use the private server for sending classified information. As The Guardian reported, he said: “The answer is I can’t do it and I wouldn’t do it and I protect classified information very carefully.”

Another concern is that Turnbull has been using this unofficial system in order to evade freedom of information requests, a central issue with the private e-mail server used by Hillary Clinton in the US. A spokesperson for Turnbull insisted this was not the case: “All communications or records of a minister which relate to his or her duties are (subject to many exemptions) potentially subject to [freedom of information] whether it is on SMS, a private email server or a government email server. The majority of government correspondence is routine and of a non-sensitive nature and is therefore not subject to sensitive security markings.”

Turnbull uses other unofficial channels to communicate with colleagues and journalists, including the self-destructing messaging apps Confide and Wickr. Both services make much of their decentralised systems, and Turnbull’s use of them suggests he understands the importance of using such end-to-end encryption to avoid the risk that messages will be intercepted in transit. His spokesperson claimed this was quite common among Australian politicians: “Many MPs and ministers use private messaging systems—including SMS, WhatsApp, Wickr, etc and private emails etc—for non-sensitive material for reasons of convenience and superior functionality.”

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