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CYFD drops use of secure messaging app

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has stopped using a secure messaging app that raised concerns that material might not be preserved for investigations and for disclosure under the state’s public records law.

CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock said Thursday the department stopped using the Signal app in late April, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The department started using Signal early in the pandemic after child welfare officials realized they lacked a safe and secure platform allowing employees to work remotely, Blalock said.

The agency liked the free service because it offered encryption and complied with a federal medical privacy law, he added.

However, Republican lawmakers and open government advocates had voiced concern about use of the app, saying routine deletion of messages could hinder transparency and availability of records for investigations.

Attorney General Hector Balderas, who is tasked with enforcing New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, also said his office was looking into the matter.

“Our office is pleased that CYFD has discontinued the use of the app, and we are reviewing to ensure that the agency is complying with the law and best practices for retention of public information,” AG’s office spokesman Matt Baca said Friday.

The Children, Youth and Families Department has come under scrutiny in recent years for its handling of child abuse reports, along with its management of the state’s foster care system.

While some personnel and medical records are exempt under the Inspection of Public Records Act, the law defines public records as anything “used, created, received, maintained or held” by any public body that relate to public business.

Blalock has maintained his agency was not deleting any records it must keep under the public records law, but said this week he didn’t want workers to use technology that weakens the public’s trust of the child welfare agency.

The department’s use of Signal for internal communications was first reported by Searchlight New Mexico.