recommended reading

Congress Requests Review of EPA’s Use of Encrypted Communications

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas // Charles Dharapak/AP File Photo

Two Republican members of Congress are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to investigate use of encrypted chat applications like Signal among the agency’s employees.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, penned a letter Tuesday to EPA IG Arthur Elkins, Jr. with Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, calling for the investigation following several media reports on encrypted chat use at EPA.

“According to media reports, a group of approximately a dozen career EPA officials are using an encrypted messaging application, Signal, to discuss potential strategies against any attempts by newly appointed political officials to redirect the EPA’s priorities in ways that depart from initiatives spearheaded by Obama administration appointees,” the letter states. “Reportedly, this group of career officials at the EPA are aiming to spread their goals covertly to avoid federal records requirements, while also aiming to circumvent the government’s ability to monitor their communications.”

As Nextgov has previously reported, the use of encrypted communications applications across government is on the upswing, though such communications are still privy to sunshine laws. Under the Federal Records Act, federal employees carrying out official government business using encrypted chat apps are still expected to archive those conversations and make them available, yet enforcement is challenging.

This proved true in December, when an EPA IG report—also requested by Smith—found the agency only able to archive 86 of 3.1 million standard text messages made on government-issued devices from July 2014 to June 2015.

However, the IG found employees did not intentionally violate the laws. Encrypted chat applications add another layer of complexity to the gray area between First Amendment rights and complying with open records laws.

“Over the past few years, we have seen several examples of federal officials’ circumventing Federal Records Act requirements and transparency generally,” the letter states. “In this instance, the committee is concerned that these encrypted and off-the-record communication practices, if true, run afoul of federal record-keeping requirements, leaving information that could be responsive to future FOIA and congressional requests unattainable.”

Threatwatch Alert

Stolen laptop

Wireless Heart Monitor Maker to Pay $2.5M Settlement to HHS After Laptop Stolen

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.