Michigan lawmakers OK ban on FOIA-avoidant apps for state employees

The Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan House on Tuesday approved a ban on the use of messaging apps or other software on state employees’ work-issued electronic devices if the technology would prevent communications from being subject to public record requests.

The bill will now go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's desk for approval.

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Johnson has said that Michigan State Police officers' use of an app that erases records of outgoing messages prompted the bill. The Republican lawmaker said the use of such an app interferes with the ability to complete a Freedom Of Information Act request.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the use of an app called Signal by some State Police officers in January. The department required any officers with “non-standard communications” apps to remove them by Feb. 10.

Michigan has a history of poorly rated transparency and accountability in government, ranking the worst in the country in The Center of Public Integrity's national investigation in 2015.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth has said when he started the role one of his focuses would be improving public trust in the government and governmental agencies.

Michigan is among few states that exempt the governor and Legislature from FOIA. Bills making their way through the legislature aim to change that.

Johnson mentioned in his testimony on the bill during a Senate Oversight Committee meeting in September that though his bill wouldn't currently ban FOIA-avoiding apps from legislators work devices, he hopes that the Legislature will soon be subject to FOIA.


Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.