Security concerns have risen after reports came out saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s phone number has been publicly available online for 15 years.
British news outlets reported that Johnson’s number was on a think tank release in 2006 when he was shadow higher education minister and was never deleted.
Lord Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser in David Cameron’s government, said that there’s a risk of the phone being tapped by a hostile state.
“I know that modern systems like WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted—nonetheless, I think one would be worried if a hostile state who had sophisticated capabilities, had the mobile phone number itself,” Ricketts told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday.
“That must increase the risk that they’re able to eavesdrop on some at least of the communications that are going on, and possibly other non-state actors as well, like sophisticated criminal gangs,” he said.
“There is no way of knowing whether that’s true, but there must at least be an increased risk if the number is widely available.”
Ricketts said “the most senior politicians in sensitive positions” have to accept that they “shouldn’t be in a position where anyone who once had your phone number can get to you when you are a prime minister.”
He said it is “one of the inconveniences” of being a prime minister, but it’s for the PM’s own interest to be “much more digitally secure than seems to be the case now.”
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that “it’s obviously a serious situation” when asked about the PM’s phone number while campaigning for the upcoming election in Hull, East Yorkshire.
“It carries a security risk,” Starmer said. “And he was warned about it. That tells its own story.”
Starmer said “a lot of people will be concerned” about the matter.
“Because what’s come out in recent weeks is privileged access—those that can WhatsApp the Prime Minister for favours.”
Recently leaked text exchanges showed that Johnson personally promised Dyson he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of his employees at Dyson Ltd. after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur.
Dyson, whose firm is now based in Singapore, wanted an assurance that his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the making of ventilators needed in the early days of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
Both had said they did nothing wrong.
Starmer said the PM’s number being publicly available is “further evidence that there’s essentially one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.”
Starmer added that he had changed his number when becoming director of public prosecutions and had kept his number secure since then.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins insisted that Boris Johnson was aware of his responsibilities on national security.
“The Prime Minister, more than anyone, knows his responsibilities when it comes to national security,” she told Times Radio Breakfast.
“I’m slightly surprised that a national broadcaster felt it appropriate to advertise the fact that that mobile phone is on the internet if indeed it is.”
She added that she believed the public was not “particularly interested” in the issue.
Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said that he believed all security protocols have been followed.
“As far as I’m aware all security protocols have been followed,” Sunak said during a visit to the Northern School of Art in Hartlepool, Northeast England.
“Part of what makes the prime minister special is that he is an incredibly approachable individual.
“You see it wherever he is out and about, people feel they can relate to him, they can talk to him, they can tell him what’s on their mind,” Sunak said.
“That’s important as politicians for us to be able to hear that and then deliver on it.
The Chancellor said that “not a single person” in Hartlepool has brought up the issue while talking to him, and that they talked about jobs, the freeport, and the economy instead.
PA contributed to this report.