As states continue to grapple with the widespread use of messaging apps by government employees, one of the first proposed measures in Maryland’s 2022 General Assembly aims to prevent its governors from using apps that automatically delete messages.

Some lawmakers say Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s use of a smartphone app that auto-deletes messages erodes government transparency.

Last month, it was uncovered Gov. Larry Hogan regularly uses Wickr, an instant-messaging app some government agencies use for security against cyberthreats.

Del. Vaughn Stewart, D-Montgomery, pointed out Hogan’s use of the app is set to automatically erase messages within 24 hours. Stewart is co-sponsoring the bill, claiming the use of Wickr conflicts with government transparency and public-records requirements.

“What we’re worried about is the reported use by Governor Hogan to talk about sensitive topics involving state business,” Stewart explained. “In particular, using this app to cover up earlier malfeasance in a way that would not be ever accessible to the public or to history.”

Stewart noted Hogan used the platform to discuss much-lauded coronavirus tests he obtained from South Korea, which ended up being unusable. A spokesperson defended the governor’s use of Wickr, saying there is nothing inappropriate about discussing news of the day on it.

Stewart’s proposed bill first will address the fact the Maryland governor’s office has not set up a document retention schedule with the state archive, as required by law for government agencies. Hogan has said his office is the head of the executive branch, not a unit of government, and is exempt. But Stewart disagrees.

“The governor is making an extremely dubious argument,” Stewart contended. “No matter what you think of this self-delete app or that encrypted app, I think everyone can agree that the governor’s office should not be the one exception to the law requiring a policy, to begin with.”

Stewart’s bill is to be filed next week, and he’s optimistic it will gain bipartisan support. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just approved a bill which outlaws state government agency employees from using similar apps. The bill passed both houses unanimously.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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