A public interest law firm is asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hand over an internal report identifying employees who downloaded encrypted messaging apps on their mobile phones.
“Information on how many employees downloaded Signal onto their work phones is vital for the public to understand how widespread this problem may be at the agency,” Ryan Mulvey, counsel at the right-leaning Cause of Action Institute (CoA), told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
CoA’s latest Freedom of Information Act request is part of their months-long investigation to find out how many EPA staffers are using smartphone messaging apps to hide their communications from the Trump administration.
CoA has ongoing litigation against the EPA over employees’ use of encrypted apps, but a separate lawsuit uncovered the fact EPA uses a “Mobile Device Management” tool to monitor what apps are installed on government phones.
The EPA inspector general’s office hired a contractor in February to generate a report based on MDM data, which would include mobile phones using encryption apps, like Signal.
CoA wants EPA to turn over the MDM report, according to a FOIA request obtained by TheDCNF.
“The EPA has a legal obligation to preserve all records of employees discussing government business, no matter how those communications are created or whether employees intended to keep their conversations private,” Mulvey said.
Federal law requires agency employees to preserve work-related records on government servers, even if such communications occur over non-government emails, phones or text messages.
Encrypted messaging allows employees to send potentially work-related messages that can’t be tracked or monitored, creating the possibility employees could circumvent transparency laws.
The Inspector General’s office admitted to CoA in March they were investigating the use of encrypted apps at EPA. Republican lawmakers asked EPA to look into the matter in February.
CoA’s investigation was sparked by a February Politico report that some EPA employees were “using new technology … to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.”
EPA employees used the apps to “discuss what to do if Trump’s political appointees undermine their agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment, flout the law, or delete valuable scientific data that the agency has been collecting for years,” Politico reported.
CoA quickly filed a FOIA asking EPA for records on the matter. The conservative legal group Judicial Watch filed its own FOIA in April. Both groups have since sued EPA for not turning over requested records on time.
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