In December 2021, the Washington Post reported that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had used Wickr — a smartphone app that allows users to send messages that self-destruct after a certain amount of time — to communicate with political aides and state employees, prompting questions about his office’s compliance with Maryland’s public records retention policies.
The Post had obtained Wickr messages in which Hogan and top staffers discussed issues such as the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Post, the governor’s office communicated through a Wickr network called “Larry Hogan” that included chat rooms like “COVID-19,” “Inner Sanctum,” and “Executive Team,” with timers for the destruction of messages set for 24 hours after being read.
Hogan argued that Wickr messages are not official government communications and that there is “absolutely nothing wrong” with his use of the self-destructing technology. His office has also claimed that it is not subject to the state’s law requiring records-retention schedules.
Transparency advocates have argued that Wickr’s rapid deletion of messages makes it difficult to know whether communications sent through the platform are public records, and that certain messages should be available for public access under the Maryland Public Information Act, which currently contains no guidance regarding elected officials’ use of messaging platforms like Wickr.
In January, Maryland lawmakers introduced the Transparency in Public Records Act, which would alter the state’s definition of “public record” to ensure that Hogan is required to retain certain Wickr messages. The bill sets specific guidelines for how long to retain different types of records, including messages sent through such platforms, and specifies that the governor’s office is a “unit of government” subject to such retention rules.
American Oversight is investigating Hogan’s use of Wickr, having filed 11 public records requests to the governor’s office in March and April 2022 for records that could illuminate how often and under what circumstances Wickr was used, as well as what (if any) practices the office has in place to retain self-destructing messages sent through the app.