* Politicians who claim exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act because they’re using private cell phones or computers were shot down by Attorney General Lisa Madigan this month…
(P)lenty of officials took advantage of that loophole. Their reasoning was simple: Because the communication happened on a private cell phone or computer, it’s not in the government’s possession and thus can’t be considered a public record.
An opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office on Nov. 15 changes that. The opinion stemmed from the city of Champaign’s denial of a reporter’s request for documents pertaining to public business, even if those documents were in private cell phone, Twitter or email accounts.
The [city of Champaign] partially denied the request by saying the documents were not in its possession. That explanation violated the intent of the Freedom of Information Act, the attorney general’s office said.
“Whether information is a ‘public record’ is not determined by where, how, or on what device that record was created; rather, the question is whether that record was prepared by or used by one or more members of a public body in conducting the affairs of government,” wrote Michael Luke, counsel to Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
From Madigan’s summary…
(T)he Attorney General noted that not requiring the city to produce the records would allow any public body to completely circumvent the requirements of FOIA by conducting public business on private equipment. Finally, the Attorney General found the city’s argument that the release of communications from private devices would have First Amendment implications to be unpersuasive. Consequently, the city was found to be in violation of the requirements of FOIA, having incorrectly denied the records request.
* Gov. Pat Quinn has a private cellphone. He has also claimed his calls are exempt from FOIA. The attorney general’s office wouldn’t specifically comment on the governor’s issue, but it sure looks to me like he’s gonna have to fork over that information now.
And Quinn isn’t alone. It’s been assumed for a long time that private cellphone use was just that: Private. Oops.
* The Question: Do you agree with this AG Madigan opinion? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.