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Missouri Governor Sued Over His Office's Use Of Self-Destructing Communications

from the opacity-enthusiast-first,-public-servant-a-very-distant-second dept

Missouri governor Eric Greitens, along with his staff, are the targets of a recently-filed public records-related lawsuit [PDF]. Two St. Louis County attorneys are accusing the governor of dodging public records laws with his use of Confide, an app that deletes text messages once they're read and prevents users from saving, forwarding, printing, or taking screenshots of the messages.

The governor's use of the app flies in the face of the presumption of openness. The attorneys are hoping the court will shut down the use of Confide to discuss official state business. The governor has argued an injunction would constitute prior restraint.

In the brief filed Tuesday, Greitens’ attorneys argue that blocking use of the app is improper because it would prevent the governor and his staff from using Confide to send “purely personal, non-work-related messages.”

“Such an injunction also would run afoul of these employees’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” the governor’s attorneys said.

Certainly the use of Confide is no different than government employees discussing official business in conversations, either in person or by phone. The conversations occur and then vanish into the ether with no publicly-accessible paper trail to prove their existence. But the use of self-destructing text messages certainly invites government officials to "talk around" their constituents by preventing the creation of FOIA-able records.

There's no telling what's being discussed via Confide and that's kind of a problem. The governor claims no official business takes place within the app, but given his lack of candor about the subject, this claim is very difficult to believe.

First off, Greitens' office is still being investigated for its use of Confide. Reporters for the Kansas City Star uncovered this fact during early explorations of the new governor's penchant for secrecy. When asked about app use, Gov. Greitens refused to respond. A public records request seeking the date the app was installed on the governor and staffers' phones was greeted with this incredible response.

“As to Request No. 2, any responsive records would be considered closed … as the disclosure of this information would impair the Office of the Governor’s Security Division’s ability to protect the Governor and his staff, and the interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

The governor basically claimed allowing the public to learn what date the app had been installed would compromise the safety and security of the governor and his employees. This bizarre use of a security exemption followed the governor's spokesman stating clearly -- and incorrectly -- that no one in the office used the secretive messaging app.

This new wave of opacity has Greitens' name all over it. Once he took office, the clampdown on transparency began.

Members of his taxpayer-funded transition team were required to sign gag orders banning them from discussing their work publicly. His office continues to withhold emails from the transition, refusing to turn over emails from individuals who played key roles but who conducted public business using private email accounts.

He broke with tradition when he refused to disclose how much lobbyists and corporations donated to fund his inaugural festivities, and his use of private planes for official travel often leaves Missourians in the dark about who is picking up the tab.

[...]

When responding to requests for public records, the governor’s office often charges fees some argue are exorbitant, and the time it takes to turn over those records can stretch out for months.

Given the background, it's hard to believe the app is solely used to discuss personal matters. If it's being used to discuss official business, those conversations need to be moved to a platform that allows saving and retrieval of messages. Or, if the governor so desires, he can move all these conversations to the physical plane and speak directly to staffers and other government employees. If he feels his office deserves this level of secrecy, he should put a little more sweat/elbow grease into his opacity efforts. If there's truly nothing to hide, then there's nothing to fear from using normal, non-self-destructive communications channels.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 3:28am

    We totally aren't doing anything wrong, see they couldn't find any evidence beyond our use of tools to make sure there is no evidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ken E. Matics, 6 Feb 2018 @ 4:09am

    This is a classic case of someone being a total

    rate of change of acceleration.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 8:02am

      I disagree. This more a case of someone being a total

      opening at the end of the alimentary canal through which solid waste matter leaves the body.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jim, 6 Feb 2018 @ 5:13am

    Actually!

    Last night's news, seems as if the suit was decided unofficially, confide is okay to use. Damn,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 7:30am

      Re: Actually!

      Well, if Confide is okay to use, then I wonder how okay the state government would be if someone responded to a state-issued subpoena via a Confide text message?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 5:56am

    "Trust me... because you have no other choice."

    This bizarre use of a security exemption followed the governor's spokesman stating clearly -- and incorrectly -- that no one in the office used the secretive messaging app.

    The word you're looking for is 'dishonestly', not 'incorrectly'. The latter leaves open the possibility that they made an honest mistake, yet it seems pretty clear with the timing('No one uses X', followed immediately by 'Telling the public when they started using X would compromise security') that the latter was a bald faced lie.

    Members of his taxpayer-funded transition team were required to sign gag orders banning them from discussing their work publicly. His office continues to withhold emails from the transition, refusing to turn over emails from individuals who played key roles but who conducted public business using private email accounts.

    He broke with tradition when he refused to disclose how much lobbyists and corporations donated to fund his inaugural festivities, and his use of private planes for official travel often leaves Missourians in the dark about who is picking up the tab.

    I'm not sure what the problem is, I mean with actions like this he is clearly someone that can be trusted to keep private communications separate from official ones, and who would absolutely make sure to save any official documents so that they are just as available to the public as the other documents related to his election and office.

    Really now, are those the kinds of actions you'd expect from someone who is trying to abuse his position and hide stuff he doesn't want the public to know(which could very well be 'anything at all, the peons don't need to know squat'), or, as I would argue, someone who just happened to use an app that just happens to delete any communications such that it is impossible for the public to have any idea what was sent and received and from who?

    With a sterling history like his I know which possibility I find more believable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 6:23am

    Are you suggesting that the government is using encrypted communications platforms, despite the sheer undeniable evil that said encryption represents?

    Say it isn't so.

    Think of the child...phones from which data cannot be retrieved. Oh, the humanity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 6 Feb 2018 @ 6:55am

    I thought only criminals and miscreants use services like that. My bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 6:58am

    National Security

    Also flies in the fact of "presumption of openness".

    What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

    When you ignore the ground up bones of those that came before you, you are no longer a victim when your bones are ground up next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 7:18am

    "an app that deletes text messages once they're read and prevents users from saving, forwarding, printing, or taking screenshots of the messages.

    Screenshots? ..... Oh - I doubt that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 8:02am

    This message will self-destruct. Don't worry chief. I am always on duty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 6 Feb 2018 @ 8:08am

    Fixed that for them...

    “Such an injunction also would run afoul of these employees’ First Amendment right to destroy evidence,” the governor’s attorneys said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 8:31am

    The governor has argued an injunction would constitute prior restraint.

    OK, I'm not a lawyer, so maybe this makes more sense to people who are, but how can it be prior restraint when they're already doing something wrong rather than simply intending to do something wrong in the future?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      I believe the 'argument', such as it is, is that without the ability to use an app that ensures that there are no records, those involved would be unwilling to engage in private communications, such that no app = no communications. This of course raises the question as to how they communicated before they started using the app, if they were so very focused on no-records communications.

      They must be talking about private, non-official communications of course, as arguing that they wouldn't be willing to engage in official communications if they didn't have a way to ensure that there would be no record of them would be a rather damning admission, and I'm sure they wouldn't accidentally make that argument.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re:

        I figure that use of said automatic deleting app constitutes prior restraint due to the fact that I am then theoretically unable to perform typical things one does when communicating, like saving, forwarding, printing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2018 @ 1:07pm

    Why are phone calls exempt?

    The NSA was able to record every phone call in the Bahamas. Recording the governor's phone would be, what, tens of GB per day at most? So if every text message must be recorded, why is voice content exempt?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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