Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has admitted to using a private server hosted by a non-government provider for email communications including official government business, but denies it could negatively affect freedom of information requests.
The Australian last night revealed the PM and his wife, Lucy Turnbull, operated the private server for purposes including government business as well as communications with journalists. It reported that Turnbull used the server during his term as Communications Minister as well as in his current role.
The PM's office issued a statement arguing that many members of parliament used private messaging systems - citing Wickr, a service Turnbull has previously admitted to using - for "non-sensitive material" because of their "superior functionality" and "convenience".
“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," he said in a statement.
"The majority of government correspondence is routine and of a non-sensitive nature and is therefore not subject to sensitive security markings."
The PM's email handling for turnbull.com.au appears to be done through Microsoft's Outlook.com service, according to DNS records."
The revelation echoes a similar situation in the United States, where US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was similarly found to have been using a private server for email correspondence during her time as Secretary of State.
She said the server was not used to process classified government information but later admitted it should not have been used for official government business.
Hackers reportedly targeted Clinton's personal email server after she left the US State Department in February 2013.
The use of private email servers among members of parliament has previously been criticised by the South Australian ICAC, which in 2012 said they should not be used for official government business.
"It has been suggested that the reason for doing so is to avoid the requirement to disclose those emails where an application is made under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 ('FOI Act')," the SA ICAC said at the time [pdf].
"If it is the case that public officers are engaging in this kind of conduct to avoid the consequences of the FOI Act, that conduct should cease immediately."