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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Government watchdog files FOIA lawsuit seeking alleged EPA encryption documents

By Carrie Salls | May 1, 2017

WASHINGTON – Judicial Watch Inc. filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit March 23 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that some Environmental Protection Agency officials “may have used the cellphone encryption application ‘Signal’ to thwart government oversight and transparency,” according to a Judicial Watch news release.

Judicial Watch said it initially made an FOIA request for documents related to the encryption allegations Feb. 3. The EPA did not respond to that request, Judicial Watch said. According to the lawsuit, the EPA was required to decide whether to comply with the FOIA request within 20 days, meaning a decision would have been due by March 14.

Specifically, the lawsuit asks the court to order the EPA to turn over “any and all work-related communications sent to or from the following EPA officials using the app known as Signal for the period Feb. 3, 2016, to the present.”

The lawsuit also requests access to any or all records requesting or approving the use of the Signal messaging app for official EPA business beginning on July 1, 2014.

The communications are being sought from the EPA’s administrator, deputy administrator, assistant administrators for the offices of air and radiation, chemical safety and pollution prevention, enforcement and compliance assurance, land and emergency management and international and tribal affairs, as well as the agency’s chief financial officer.

Judicial Watch said Politico first reported the alleged use of the Signal app by EPA leaders on Feb. 2.

The Politco report said “Fearing for their jobs, the employees began communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after (President Donald J.) Trump’s inauguration." The use of the app was reported to be designed to “create a network across the agency” to learn of any illegal activity within the Trump administration, Politco reported.

“This new lawsuit could expose how the anti-Trump ‘deep state’ embedded in EPA is working to undermine the rule of law,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in the release. “Let’s hope the Trump administration enforces FOIA and turns over these records.”

In addition, Judicial Watch said the officials may be “attempting to use high-tech blocking devices to circumvent the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act altogether.”

Justice Watch also alleged that the EPA’s employees have been known to dispose of records and keep agency business private.

Justice Watch defines itself in the lawsuit as “a not-for-profit, educational organization that seeks to promote transparency, integrity and accountability in government and fidelity to the rule of law.”

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)