Feb 28, 2022 - News

D.C. lawmakers take up bill targeting mayor's use of WhatsApp

Illustration of a hand holding a smart phone with a WhatsApp logo on the screen, in front of the John A Wilson Building.
Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The D.C. Council will consider emergency legislation targeting Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration's use of WhatsApp, after an Axios investigation found that the use of the messaging app in city government raises public records concerns.

Why it matters: The bill would require that all communications on platforms such as WhatsApp be preserved under the city's Freedom of Information law and forbids the use of a feature that can auto-destruct messages.

  • WhatsApp is widely used in District government for official government business, Axios found this month. Government ethics experts discourage the use of such apps unless safeguards are in place to retain communications for FOIA requests.
  • The mayor's office earlier this month did not respond to multiple inquiries on whether the administration forbids the use of WhatsApp's auto-delete feature and how it ensures communications are archived.

What they're saying: "After learning of the use of encrypted messaging apps, by members of the Executive Branch, it is an urgent matter that we boost transparency in District Government," council chair Phil Mendelson said in a statement Monday.

  • Mendelson released the bill ahead of Tuesday's meeting. As emergency legislation, it will need the votes of nine out of 13 lawmakers for approval.

"I get it that many in government would like to conduct their business in private," Mendelson added. "But that is contrary to long-standing policy. We value open government. We don't value auto-delete."

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