Scotland’s FOI watchdog has hinted that they could take action against the Scottish Government if WhatsApp messages sent during the pandemic have not been retained.

Ministers in Edinburgh have come under fire in recent days after the UK's Covid Inquiry revealed that they had failed to hand over any communications despite promising to cooperate fully with the probe.

Reports over the weekend suggested that key figures in Scotland’s response to the virus - including Nicola Sturgeon and Jason Leitch - had regularly deleted their messages.

Earlier this week, Humza Yousaf claimed the Scottish Government’s social media guidance was to “routinely delete WhatsApp messages.”

Though he admitted that he had kept his.

Ms Sturgeon has so far refused to confirm or deny deleting messages.

READ MORE: Yousaf gives strongest indication yet WhatsApp messages have been lost

In a statement released on Thursday, David Hamilton, the Scottish Information Commissioner made clear that any data shared on “non-corporate messaging tools” by public authorities would “fall under the scope of Scotland’s FOI laws.”

His office added that the Commissioner would expect public authorities “to identify and consider all appropriate recorded information when responding to FOI requests, including, where relevant, information recorded in exchanges made through WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, or other messaging tools.”

The statement continued: “In circumstances where the Commissioner finds that public bodies are not appropriately searching relevant sources in order to respond to information requests, he may consider regulatory action in order to support necessary improvements.

“Where the Commissioner considers that an authority's records management or records retention practices fall short of the standard set out in the FOI Act’s Code of Practice on Records Management (the Section 61 Code) he may, following consultation with the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, also consider regulatory action to support improvement.”

Mr Hamilton said: "I have been reviewing my live caseload and am liaising with the Keeper of the Records to determine whether regulatory action may be required in specific cases."

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon under more pressure over deleted WhatsApps

On Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced that they would share more than 14,000 messages with the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. 

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said a legal order, known as a Section 21 notice, had been required before the messages could be handed over because “a number of them were of a particularly personal nature, including photos of individuals’ children and personal medical details”.

She added: “This will mean that all requested messages held will be shared, in full and unredacted, by November 6.”