Subpoena issued for contents of Illinois government watchdog’s Dropbox account
A lawyer representing Algonquin Township, Illinois, subpoenaed Dropbox to compel the California-based tech company to produce information about an account belonging to the Edgar County Watchdogs, an Illinois-based government watchdog blog.
The subpoena, issued on Jan. 23, requested detailed information about a Dropbox folder belonging to the watchdog group titled “Algonquin Township,” including content, IP and email addresses of all users, payment information, and comments.
John Kraft, one of the co-founders of Edgar County Watchdogs, found the request alarming. “In our opinion they are trying to chill public speaking. If they were successful, sources would be reluctant to contact reporters or fear they should be outed with a subpoena,” Kraft told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
In their emergency motion to quash, the lawyer for Edgar County Watchdogs, Denise M. Ambroziak, wrote that the subpoena both “violates the reporter’s privilege” and “lacks relevance to the subject matter of the FOIA suit, is outside of the scope, and fails to comply with local rules.”
Edgar County Watchdogs is currently suing Algonquin Township for failing to provide records in response to 16 different public records requests, and the subpoena was issued in the context of that lawsuit. “Instead of just answering our FOIA requests they’re spending all this money to try and find out who is feeding us information,” Kraft said.
Ambroziak argued in the motion that Algonquin Township had not met the threshold to divest reporter’s privilege. Under Illinois law, the party seeking to do so must prove such information being sought would be relevant to the proceeding, that such information is in the public interest, and that they have exhausted all other means of obtaining that information. “There is no public interest supported by disclosing the contents of the Plaintiff’s Dropbox Account other than to simply go on an improper fishing expedition for some undisclosed and unknown reason,” the motion continues.
Neither Kraft nor his attorney received a copy of the subpoena via electronic or postal mail, and did not become aware of its existence until a third party provided it to them on Feb. 8, according to the motion. Also on that day, James Kelly, the lawyer for Algonquin Township, wrote a letter to the lawyer for Edgar County Watchdogs stating that the subpoena was “rejected and cannot be served,” and so there was no need to file the emergency motion to quash the subpoena. They opted to file the motion anyway, and it was granted on Feb. 11, according to Kraft and an article in the Cook County Record.
Kelly and Township Clerk Karen Lukasik did not return multiple requests for comment.
Edgar County Watchdogs is a investigative blog based in southern Illinois that focuses on local government transparency. According to the National Review, the investigative work conducted by Kraft and co-founder Kirk Allen has resulted in "seven ongoing federal investigations."
On July 10, 2019, a McHenry County Court judge quashed Algonquin Township’s subpoena for the Dropbox contents from Edward County Watchdogs.
John Kraft, one of the co-founders of the news site, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the judge cited Illinois’ Reporter’s Privilege Act in quashing the request for work product from the third party.