Maryland’s governor’s office defends use of messaging app that destroys communications with state employees

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has been making use of a messaging app that allows him to communicate with staff without having to make those communications available to the public, according to the Washington Post.

Hogan’s communications director Michael Ricci confirmed to WTOP in an email that Hogan does make use of the “Amazon-based platform”, Wickr, which is described on the Amazon Web Services site as giving “security conscious enterprises and government agencies the ability to implement important governance and security controls to help them meet their compliance requirements.”

The Post story raises questions about whether the use of the app, with settings that allow messages to “self-destruct” within 24 hours, conflicts with Maryland public records requirements.

According to the Maryland State Archives, “the law defines public records very broadly” and “Maryland state law makes all public officials responsible for making sure that records no longer needed are either offered to the Archives or are destroyed according to procedures that are spelled out in Maryland’s regulations (COMAR).”

The information on the Maryland Archives’ website adds, “Records must be maintained correctly to facilitate the transparency that the public expects of public office-holders.”

The site makes distinctions between matters of public record and personal notes that are not government related, “e.g. an email inviting you to lunch.”

While the guidance on public records from the archives indicates every “unit” of state government must have some plan for record keeping, in his statement to WTOP, Ricci suggested the governor is exempt. Ricci stated that, “As has historically been the case, there is no document retention policy for the Office of the Governor.”

Hogan’s former chief of staff Roy McGrath also shared with The Post messages that he received from Hogan via Wickr.

Ricci told WTOP that the governor did not discuss a controversial payout to his former chief of staff with state employees using the app. Hogan’s messages to McGrath came before he was informed how McGrath received his severance package, The Post reported.

McGrath was indicted on charges of wire fraud and embezzlement tied to his severance arrangement.

Hogan also used the messaging app to discuss the flap over the 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea that were later found to be unusable.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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