A new ruling by Illinois' Attorney General mean's some public employees private emails and texts could be retrievable upon request.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan has issued a binding decision that a personal email account is subject to Freedom Of Information Act requests if it contains public business. The opinion stems from a CNN request to the Chicago Police Department to turn over any personal emails the involves officers may have made regarding the Laquan McDonald shooting.
Holland & Knight Senior Counsel Mark Burkland said the ruling will have a ripple effect on municipalities across Illinois. "Sometime the easiest thing to do is to pull out a smartphone to txt a colleague for a public works project or something similar," he said. "If a water main breaks at 2a.m., is the public works director not supposed to use their personal device to call or to text someone to get out and fix it?" he asked.
The attorney for CNN argued that granting public employees private emails immunity from FOIA's would undermine current disclosure laws, since it would incentivize them to use those accounts to hide sensitive information.
The rule doesn't apply to elected officials and their private accounts.
Burklund says any public bodies should make rules to establish a way to get to their employees' private accounts should they need to.
Holland & Knight associate Benjamin Schuster says they don't know if the City of Chicago plans to appeal the decision.