More politicians using messaging app Signal, which can automatically delete chats
More and more politicians are using messaging app Signal, which automatically deletes messages after a period set by the user. Over a third of the new Ministers and State Secretaries sworn in this week are on the app. Several municipal authorities also switched to Signal last year, BNR reports based on its own research.
Signal makes it very easy to delete your messages or entire chat conversations. You only have to tick how long messages are kept for each chat, ranging from 30 seconds to four weeks. In addition to about a third of the Rutte IV Cabinet, the mayors and aldermen of Nijmegen, Delft, and Amsterdam now chat via Signal. The D66 parliamentary group also moved from WhatsApp to Signal.
It may not be legal for politicians to use automatic delete functions in messaging apps, experts told BNR. Communications and administrative decision-making usually have to be preserved for public access under the context of the Government Information Act (Wob). "If you automatically delete all communication in a certain channel, there is a good chance that things will go wrong. Moreover, it is illegal if the removal takes place after a Wob request," lawyer Cornelis van der Sluis, who specializes in Wob requests, explained to the broadcaster.
In 2020, the national government drew up instructions about how politicians should preserve text messages. According to this guideline, administrators and civil servants must determine for themselves which messages were important for political decision-making and must be kept.
Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, called this approach woefully inadequate. "You cannot expect a politician to decide for themself which messages should be made public in the future," director Lousewies van der Laan said to the broadcaster. "The risk of misjudgment is high."
BNR contacted the spokespersons for Ministers Sigrid Kaag of Finance and Wopke Hoekstra of Foreign Affairs to ask whether these politicians ever use the automatic delete function on Signal. Kaag's spokesperson did not respond, according to the broadcaster.
Hoekstra's spokesperson said he was uncertain. "I don't know about one-on-one messages," said the spokesperson. "Of course, that quickly falls under sphere of one's private life. Work-related communication is always carefully archived."