Two eastern Missouri attorneys are suing Governor Eric Greitens’ Office to try and block it from suspected use of a cell phone app that immediately deletes text messages after they are read. Clayton attorneys Ben Sansone and Mark Pedroli allege a conspiracy to violate open records and records retention laws by using such software that also prevents text messages from being saved, copied or forwarded. Pedroli tells Missourinet government officials should not be allowed to use devices that destroy communications.
“To me, I think that transparency in government is probably one of the most important and fundamental prerequisites of civil liberties,” says Pedroli. “You can’t really protect your civil liberties if you know what the government is doing. The right to know what the government is doing is sort of a foundation.”
Last month, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley launched an investigation into the office of fellow Republican Greitens about the secretive texting controversy. Pedroli says the lawsuit is not implying the attorney general’s investigation will find no wrongdoing.
“I don’t think that our lawsuit is a commentary on the attorney general really at all,” says Pedroli. “It’s a lawsuit because I believe this needs to be in a courtroom and I think that a judge needs be reviewing what happened here. I don’t think it should be in the political sphere alone and I don’t think that the investigation should only take place at the attorney general level. That’s not to say that they won’t do a good job. That I can’t know.”
Pedroli and Sansone want a jury trial and fines issued if violations are found. They are also asking for the disclosure of staff names who have used the software.
In 2017, Pedroli and Sansone launched an organization that advocates for transparency in government. Pedroli says the organization, called the Sunshine Project, will dispute cases regardless of political affiliation. He says they are not politically active, accept on a very local level. Sansone is a Des Peres alderman.
At the time of the release of this story, a request for comment from the Governor’s Office has not been returned. During previous events involving media coverage, Greitens has criticized the Kansas City Star first reporting about his staff’s alleged covert communication through the app called “Confide.” He called the article “another nothing story that’s come from a liberal media outlet that is just desperate for salacious headlines.”
A measure proposed this legislative session by Assistant House Minority Leader Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, would prohibit government officials or employees from using data-purging applications while conducting public business.