Operating in secret is stock in trade for a Navy SEAL, but Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is no longer a SEAL, but rather a public servant.
Operating in the open is stock in trade for public servants, or at least it ought to be.
Last week, we learned from The Kansas City Star that Greitens and some of his key staff use an app called Confide that erases texts once they have been sent, and that also prevents anyone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of that text.
You don’t have to dig far down into Confide’s promotional literature to read this about the app: “Discuss sensitive topics, brainstorm ideas or give unfiltered opinions without fear of the internet’s permanent, digital record and with no copies left behind.”
Maybe the governor is using this app just for personal business, but the very nature of the app means we’ll never know, and that amounts to more “Trust us, we’ll tell you what you need to know” arrogance that has infected modern politics in the digital age.
The fact that senior staff are using it as well hints that the public’s business is what’s at stake here, and if the governor and top officials are using this for public business, they are subverting the Missouri Sunshine Law.
Public officials using a leave-no-trace app like Confide, “are intentionally removing that business from public scrutiny,” Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, told the Star.
“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.
Other than his press secretary saying that the app hasn’t been downloaded on “state-issued” devices, the governor has not been forthcoming about his use of the app.
Public business being conducted on a secret messaging app isn’t that much different than a public board meeting in secret, said Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association.
“If the latter is illegal,” she said, “so is the former.”
Now some Democrats want the attorney general to open an investigation into the governor’s use of the app, and also promise they will introduce bills that would protect the public’s right to know in the age of Confide and similar apps.
Both could take a while, and we’re not optimistic that either will get very far. The first step is for the governor to publicly and immediately disavow the use of Confide and similar apps for himself and his staff.
That’s the high road, and taking it would show respect both for Missouri law and for Missourians.