'Whitelisting' banned in Whitehall

9 July 2020

6:44 PM

9 July 2020

6:44 PM

Brexit, coronavirus and an upcoming Whitehall shake-up is enough to keep the Cabinet Office busy – but it seems some civil servants are still more worried about other pressing issues. In an email on Wednesday to staff from the Cabinet Office’s ‘Digital and Technology Team’ comes an apology. What for?

‘Some people have raised concerns about the use of the term ‘whitelisting’ in our previous email,’ the message says. ‘We’re sorry for using inappropriate language, and we’re currently reviewing all of our guidance and communication to make sure it’s accessible’.


The email goes on to reassure worried Whitehall workers that ‘we’ll…be using ‘allow/deny’ list in place of white/black list in future’ and urges civil servants to flag up any words or phrases that might offend. It then points them in the direction of a blog from the National Cyber Security Centre entitled ‘Terminology: it’s not black and white’. And for those who don’t see the problem with using the words ‘whitelisting’ or ‘blacklisting’ comes a rebuke:

‘You may not see why this matters. If you’re not adversely affected by racial stereotyping yourself, then please count yourself lucky. For some of your colleagues (and potential future colleagues), this really is a change worth making.’

But while civil servants are urged to ensure they work towards inclusivity at every turn, this only goes so far:

‘And finally, a word from the NCSC’s Technical Director Ian Levy (supported by the full NCSC Management Board): “If you’re thinking about getting in touch saying this is political correctness gone mad, don’t bother.””

Mr S wonders whether civil servants who do get in touch will end up on a denylist…

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