PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Thousands of text messages from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s city-provided iPhone and the phones of other top officials have disappeared from the public record for years, including messages he sent after the former President Donald Trump has ordered federal agents in the city to crack down on nightly racial justice protests.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the city uses specialized software to capture text messages on city-issued phones so they can be held for public records requests, but the software is unable to capture encrypted messages sent using Oregon’s iMessage service. Apple.
OPB’s investigation found that the mayor and his staff sent and received thousands of iMessage messages between 2017 and 2021, and those messages were not captured – and therefore not included – in major requests for public protest records , the police and other matters.
Users can turn off iMessage and instead send messages outside of Apple’s proprietary system by toggling a button in the iPhone’s settings. Wheeler and other city officials signed a document saying they understood they needed to turn off iMessage, and Wheeler was repeatedly reminded of it, OPB reported.
Ten months after Wheeler signed the form, iMessage was activated on the mayor’s iPhone, the outlet reported. The mayor then received more than 6,400 iMessages between January 2019 and September 2021, according to a spreadsheet of all of Wheeler’s texts from that period requested by OPB.
Wheeler declined to comment to OPB. Her rep, Cody Bowman, said in an email to the Associated Press on Tuesday that the mayor “never manually activated iMessage” and was fully compliant with the filing system.
“Mayor Wheeler made his phone available to ensure messages were captured manually,” Bowman said.
OPB obtained the missing text spreadsheet after it discovered city attorneys, concerned about its default, used special software in late 2021 to export all the content to the mayor’s phone, but the iMessages sent over the previous ones City of Wheeler – issued telephones are lost forever .
Senior Deputy City Attorney Jenifer Johnston told OPB that “all messages on (her) iPhone are essentially iMessages.”
Lost messages include several former city commissioners and Wheeler’s former police adviser, Robert King. Everyone used iMessage and walked away before Portland realized the problem and pulled iMessage from current phones.
King advised the mayor on racial justice protests, two fatal police shootings, and clashes between far-right and far-left groups during the time in question. The city received a dozen unsuccessful requests for public records seeking King’s texts.
From 2018 to 2021, the mayor’s office alone received more than 130 text requests from both the press and voters. For example, the city withheld 1,300 pertinent texts covering nearly every pivotal moment in the protest after a request for public records by a local activist group because they were sent in iMessage, OPB reported.
“I don’t see that there’s no way this isn’t a violation of the law,” said Ginger McCall, Oregon’s foremost public records advocate who now works at a progressive advocacy group in Washington DC “…Clearly not they made him fulfill his legal obligation.That’s a nice way of putting it.
By 2021, city technology bureau staff were sending increasingly frantic emails about the mayor’s conduct. They wrote that he was “reactivating iMessage every time” even though they were repeatedly told that doing so made automatic text archiving impossible.
Bowman, Wheeler’s spokesman, said Tuesday that while city personnel initially thought Wheeler had disabled iMessage, they now know that’s not the case.
iMessage may have been activated on the mayor’s phone without his knowledge when he got a new phone; when he changed his SIM card; when he synced his work phone with iTunes; or when he texted an out-of-town employee who used iMessage, Bowman said.
“What the city didn’t realize until recently was all the ways iMessage could be unintentionally and inadvertently activated when using your Apple device,” he said in an email to the AP.
Johnston, the deputy city attorney for Portland, said she was confident the city acted in good faith.
“What I understand the law requires is that we do a reasonable search,” he said. “And our research was reasonable based on what we knew at the time.”
By December 2021, all elected officials blocked iMessage irreversibly.
This story has been updated to correct that text messages are not missing.
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