Judicial Watch Sues EPA for Communications Records of Officials Who May Have Used Cell Phone Message Encryption App to Thwart Government Oversight
Suit seeks to determine whether officials used software app known as "Signal" to secretly send and receive official messages
Contact: Jill Farrell, Judicial Watch, 202-646-5172
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2017 /Christian Newswire/ -- Judicial Watch today announced it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for communications sent or received by EPA officials who may have used the cell phone encryption application "Signal" to thwart government oversight and transparency. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v. Environmental Protection Agency (No. 1:17-cv-00533)).
The lawsuit was filed after the EPA failed to respond to Judicial Watch's February 3, 2017 FOIA request seeking:
- Any and all work-related communications sent to or from the following EPA officials using the app known as "Signal," for the period February 3, 2016 to the present:
a. Administrator (or Acting);
b. Deputy Administrator (or Acting);
c. Assistant Administrator (or Acting),
Office of Air and Radiation;
d. Assistant Administrator (or Acting),
Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention;
e. Assistant Administrator (or Acting),
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance;
f. Assistant Administrator (or Acting),
Office of Land and Emergency Management;
g. Assistant Administrator (or Acting),
Office of International and Tribal Affairs; and
h. Chief Financial Officer (or Acting).
- Any and all records requesting or approving the use of the messaging app known as "Signal" by any EPA personnel for official business. The time frame for the requested records is July 1, 2014 to the present.
The use of Signal by EPA officials to prevent government oversight was reported in a February 2, 2017, Politico article entitled "Federal workers turn to encryption to thwart Trump." According to the article:
Whether inside the Environmental Protection Agency, within the Foreign Service, on the edges of the Labor Department or beyond, employees are using new technology … to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.
Fearing for their jobs, the employees began communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after Trump's inauguration.
[T]he goal is to "create a network across the agency" of people who will raise red flags if Trump's appointees do anything unlawful.
"This new lawsuit could expose how the anti-Trump 'deep state' embedded in EPA is working to undermine the rule of law," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "Let's hope the Trump administration enforces FOIA and turns over these records. Given EPA's checkered history on records retention and transparency, it is disturbing to see reports that career civil servants and appointed officials may now be attempting to use high-tech blocking devices to circumvent the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act altogether."
Signal has long been touted within the high-tech community as an