NFOIC requests Google disable Gmail “self-destructing” feature for government communiqués

Submitted by dbevarly on Fri, 05/04/2018 - 10:32am

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News Release

May 4, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Daniel Bevarly

 (239) 823-1811 · dbevarly@nfoic.org

 

NFOIC requests Google disable Gmail “self-destructing” feature for government communiqués

New feature undermines open government and records retention laws

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) has contacted Google about Gmail’s new “self-destructing” email feature. The feature could allow government employees to delete public records subject to federal, and state open government and Freedom of Information laws.

In an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, NFOIC board president Mal Leary cited that most states have clear record retention laws aimed at making sure public records, electronic and otherwise, such as official correspondence between public officials are secured and maintained.

Today, many state and local governments use Gmail as part of Google’s G suite of services.  Leary reminded Pichai that in 2009, Google launched “Google for the Public Sector.” The company’s announcement touted “a one-stop shop of tools and tips that local, state and federal government officials can use to help promote transparency and increase citizen participation.”

“Technology that allows the self-destruction of official, electronic public communications is not promoting transparency, and under most state open government laws, is illegal,“ wrote Leary.  NFOIC and its state coalition members are urging Google to take steps to assure the ‘self-destruct’ feature be disabled on government Gmail accounts and on emails directed to a government entity.”

NFOIC executive director Daniel Bevarly said the Gmail self-destruct option represents a growing concern about the abundance of third party software and apps used by state and local governments. “Much of the software and hardware is being used to circumvent public record and meeting laws and ignore privacy rights of individuals who wish to engage their public officials online,” said Bevarly.

Bevarly cites two recent examples including Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and his staff members’ using a text messaging app that destroys text messages after they have been read. In the Kentucky legislature, an amendment to an unrelated bill this session (later removed) would have exempted communications conducted by public officials using private email or devices (computers and cell phones) from the state’s public record law. 

“Technology companies need to provide solutions to government that take into account transparency laws created to ensure accountability and preservation of government proceedings,” he said.

About:  NFOIC is a nonpartisan alliance of state organizations promoting FOI reforms to ensure state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies and practices to facilitate open, transparent and accessible government.