Update: Unfortunately, on September 27, 2023, the Supreme Court of Illinois denied the Edgar County Watchdogs’ Petition for Leave to Appeal, without an opinion or explanation.
On July 27th, the Alliance joined a brief in Edgar County Watchdogs v. The Will County Sheriff’s Office, filed in the Supreme Court of Illinois. This case concerns a local news outlet, Edgar County Watchdogs (“ECW”), seeking the disclosure of audio recordings from 911 calls from Will County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office denied ECW’s FOIA requests based on privacy reasons, because the calls contained personally identifying information. ECW sued, alleging a willful violation of its FOIA request and the trial court ruled in ECW’s favor, ordering that the Sheriff’s Office had to produce the 911 recordings after using computer software to mask the caller’s voice or produce transcripts of the calls. The Sheriff’s Office appealed, arguing that they do not have the computer software capable of masking the caller’s voice and the recordings are exempt from disclosure. The brief, filed by RCFP, argues that agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office, are required to keep pace with evolving technology to afford access to electronic media (especially when such technology is readily available at little or no cost). Access to records such as 911 calls can be critical for journalists to report on important events, and agencies should not be able to rely on outdated technology to avoid disclosure requirements. Read more.
Charlotte McBirney is Senior Counsel and Director, Public Policy for the News/Media Alliance.