JEFFERSON CITY — Several senior members of Gov. Eric Greitens' office have accounts with a secretive app that erases messages after they've been read, raising concerns among government-transparency advocates that the app could be used to undermine open-record laws.
The Kansas City Star reported that it determined the governor and some of his staff have Confide accounts connected to their personal cellphones. The app deletes messages and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages.
It's unclear whether the governor and his staff are using the app for state business, campaign work or other government communication, or for personal matters.
Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told the newspaper in an email that he doesn't believe anyone downloaded the app on a state-issued device. Briden didn't respond to follow-up questions from the Star when asked about staffers who have Confide accounts or whether the office has a policy about using the app. Briden also didn't return messages from The Associated Press on Thursday.
If public business is conducted through the app, "they are intentionally removing that business from public scrutiny," said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit 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.
Missouri Press Association Attorney Jean Maneke said keeping records of public officials is "critical to ensuring that public business is conducted fairly and impartially."
Whether using the secretive app for public business would violate the state's open records laws is "a very, very tough legal question," said David Roland, director of litigation with the Freedom Center of Missouri, a conservative nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.
Roland noted that although all documents made in connection with official business are considered records, the law is vague about how long those records must be retained. Roland said he thinks it would be fine for government employees to use secured message apps for non-government purposes.