July 27, 2018
Best of the States
Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws
Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.
But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.
Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.
The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.
For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.