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Missouri governor's penchant for secrecy goes digital with messaging app that leaves no trace

Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff use an app that deletes text messages after they've been read, raising concerns among transparency advocates that it could be used to subvert Missouri open records law.

The app, called Confide, allows someone to send a text message that vanishes without a trace after it is read. It also prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the text message.

Because the app is designed to eliminate a paper trail, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff are using it to conduct state business out of view of the public, or whether they're using it for personal and campaign purposes.

Self-destructing messages also mean there is no way to retain texts to decide whether they should be considered a public record.

"If I were wanting there to be no record of what I was doing, that's the route I would take," said Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association.

Even before Greitens took office in January, his administration has been cloaked in secrecy.

 

From refusing to divulge how much corporations and lobbyists donated to bankroll his inaugural to forcing his transition team to sign gag orders to charging fees for public records that critics argue are likely illegal, the governor has displayed a penchant for secrecy that alarms open-government advocates.

Use of a secret texting app, critics contend, is yet another example of that inclination.

If public officials do public business using this app, "they are intentionally removing that business from public scrutiny," said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for open government.

"Removing public records about public business from scrutiny entirely removes the ability for oversight bodies, journalists and the public to hold our officials accountable for their work on our behalf, should waste, fraud, abuse or outright criminality occur," he said. "Good public policy should always be able to withstand public scrutiny."

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