Judicial Watch announced Wednesday that it has filed a “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for communications sent or received by EPA officials who may have used the cell phone encryption application ‘Signal’ to thwart government oversight and transparency.”
The lawsuit was filed after the EPA failed to respond to a previous FOIA request seeking all work-related communications sent to or from eight EPA officials and all records related to use of the Signal messaging app by personnel for official business from July 1, 2014, to the present.
According to an article that was featured in a February 2, 2017, report from Politico titled, “Federal workers turn to encryption to thwart Trump,” EPA employees have started using new technology “to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.”
It was revealed that employees had started “communicating incognito using the app, Signal, shortly after Trump’s inauguration” with the goal of creating a watchdog-type network throughout the agency to “raise red flags if Trump’s appointees do anything unlawful.”
“This new lawsuit could expose how the anti-Trump ‘deep state’ embedded in [the] EPA is working to undermine the rule of law,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton. “Let’s hope the Trump administration enforces FOIA and turns over these records. Given [the] EPA’s checkered history on records retention and transparency, it is disturbing to see reports that career civil servants and appointed officials may now be attempting to use high-tech blocking devices to circumvent the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act altogether.”
Signal has a well-established reputation as an effective tool for those who don’t want the government to access their smartphone messages. However, government officials and employees who use it are subverting the Federal Records and Freedom of Information Acts.
According to Judicial Watch, “The Federal Records Act requires federal employees to preserve all records of work-related communications on government servers, even if such communications occur over non-government emails, phones or text messages. The records must be forwarded on to the agency for preservation and archiving, and the records are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act, unless specifically exempted.”
However, the EPA has a well-documented history of its employees’ using private emails or conducting official business through non-official communications channels and not preserving records.
One example was an EPA employee who had set his phone to delete messages automatically after 30 days. Another was an investigation revealing the fact that “EPA officials archived only 86 text messages out of 3.1 million messages sent and received by agency employees in 2015.”
In addition, a 2014 investigation found that some “high-ranking EPA officials, including then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, may have deleted texts to hide official business.”
H/T: Judicial Watch
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