The New Mexico Attorney General started reviewing the Child, Youth, and Family Department last month after its use of encrypted messaging technology allowed state government workers to delete their communications.
The department announced the switch to the messaging app called Signal at the beginning of the pandemic to better protect the state against cyberattacks and allow employees to work remotely. But the more that transparency advocates looked into the app’s features, the more they found things problematic.
Melanie Majors, a member of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said that Signal could present serious issues for transparency and accountability. She said that government business is being conducted under a “cloak of secrecy” enabled by Big Tech platforms.
Signal offered end-to-end encryption that allowed the agency to remain in compliance with the federal medical privacy law, but allow a systematic deletion of public records. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Hector Balderas, said they stopped using the app in the last week of April because he didn’t want his workers using a tool that would “undermine public confidence” in his agency’s commitment to transparency.
Some of the app’s features include setting chats to automatically delete and allowed manual deletion of some encrypted messages, which makes them nearly inaccessible under state open-records laws. Some House Republican leaders have even asked the Attorney General’s office and state auditor to investigate whether this violates public record laws. They insist that the communication between state employees is considered a public record.
Rep. Rod Montoya called it “unconscionable” and said that the agency officials are purposely hiding something from the people they are governing. They even fired two senior employees who raised concerns over the app’s use.
Reports have also revealed that the CYFD has kept children’s court judges, foster youth, and families in the dark with interagency text messages that automatically delete after 25 hours, with virtually no type of public records request.
Some of the critical information includes communications regarding child abuse, neglect, care of children in state custody, concerns about private contractors, and a wide range of official business. Children’s law attorney’s argued that deleting communications is not only illegal but that withholding it could put a child’s life on the line.
Destroying public records is considered a fourth-degree felony in some of the state’s most at-risk population and renders them forever inaccessible to attorneys, members of the public, and journalists.
But according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, she supports using the messaging app Signal and has no problem with her staff members deleting communications. The governor’s office itself even instructed staff members to regularly delete their messages. “Every single text message that you send or receive likely qualifies as a ‘transitory record. We recommend that you delete all text messages which are ‘transitory records’ every ten days. You may delete them more often if you wish,” the official guidance reads.
This is only the latest controversy of regularly data dumping and concealing information from the public. GOP members add that the governor’s staff consistently talks of transparency and ethics, yet allows her department to destroy critical information.
“For the leadership in any state agency to think they can circumvent transparency by deleting public documents is a slap in the face to New Mexicans who have placed their trust in public service,” House Republican Minority Leader Jim Townsend wrote in a statement.
While Grisham is ranked as one of the lowest popular governors, the Signal app only confirms that the promise of transparency and the truth is nothing more than another radical left lie.