Security Footage Exempt from Disclosure Under FOIA as a “Security Measure”

By , February 1, 2022February 2nd, 2022News, The Extra Mile Newsletter

In Chicago Sun-Times v. Chicago Transit Authority, an Illinois appellate court found that the Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) met its burden to prove that disclosing surveillance footage could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the effectiveness of its camera surveillance system. The CTA received a FOIA request from the Chicago Sun-Times for video surveillance footage capturing an attack on a passenger who was waiting for the subway at a CTA Blue Line stop when the passenger was pushed onto the rails of the tracks and the assailant fled. The City denied the request and cited to Section 7(1)(v) of FOIA, which exempts “security measures […] that are designed to identify, prevent, or respond to potential attacks upon a community’s population or systems, facilities, or installations, the destruction or contamination of which would constitute a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the community, but only to the extent that disclosure could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the effectiveness of the measures.” The City argued that releasing the security footage could reveal the position of the cameras and the cameras’ potential blind spots. Further, the security cameras on station platforms are funded by the Department of Homeland Security specifically to prevent terrorist attacks on mass transit systems, and the platform cameras can be used by law enforcement to view a live feed of events happening in real time.

The appellate court found that Section 7(1)(v) of FOIA was drafted to include very broad language, including the qualifier, “could reasonably be expected.” Therefore, a public body must only meet a lesser burden under Section 7(1)(v) to show that releasing security measures could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the effectiveness of the agency’s security measures, not that release would jeopardize the effectiveness. The CTA meet this burden by showing that it “reasonably estimated that making this information public could risk making its security measures less effective.” The court determined that CTA effectively showed that releasing the footage could potentially reveal the location of cameras, any blind spots by the cameras, the clarity of captured footage, and other information that could be utilized by criminals or terrorists to jeopardize public safety.

This case serves as a reminder that the construction and language of FOIA is important when examining records for release. Here, the court reasoned that this exemption, Section 7(1)(v), was purposefully drafted with broad language, which is distinct from other exemptions under Section 7 of FOIA. Schools should consider this interpretation when responding to requests for security footage and other records that could reveal security measures.

If you have any questions regarding the FOIA or this case, please contact Katherine LaRosa any of our attorneys in the Board Governance/Corporate practice group.

Source:  Chicago Sun-Times v. Chicago Transit Authority, 2021 IL App (1st) 192028