A circuit court judge in Missouri ruled Monday that Republican former governor Eric Greitens did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law — which guarantees “openness in government” — when he and staff members used a “self-destruct” app that automatically deleted their text messages.
Jon Beetem, a judge in Cole County, about two hours west of St. Louis, ruled that the messages were never officially retained because they were automatically deleted by the Confide app, the Kansas City Star reported.
The newspaper reported in 2017 that Greitens and his staff had been using the app, which allows people to send messages that self-destruct and cannot be screen-grabbed.
A lawyer, Mark Pedroli, of the St. Louis-based Sunshine and Government Accountability Project, sued the governor after the disclosure, saying that the app allowed the governor and other staffers to violate the state’s open-records laws. The lawsuit revealed that nearly all employees on Greitens’s government staff had Confide on their personal cellphones, according to the Star.
Pedroli told The Washington Post that he hopes that the current governor, Mike Parson (R), whose office defended the case, will take action to limit the use of apps like Confide in government, or Pedroli will appeal the ruling, he said.
“I think the idea that using Confide or burner apps excuses government officials from retaining records is not only wrong pursuant to the law, but it’s also dangerous from a public policy perspective,” he said. “It sends the signal to countless officials in government that they can use burner apps. We need to get control of this as soon as we can.”
Beetem ruled that since the records did not exist, Confide did not raise issues with the state’s Sunshine Law, writing that apps like it are “not much different than a digital phone call which exists only for the moment,” according to the Star.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who was considered a rising Republican star, resigned amid scandal in 2018 after a woman said she had unwanted sexual contact with him.