Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police is asking Google to reveal the identity of whoever posted recordings of two heated FOP meetings on YouTube, saying they violated state law.
FOP attorneys have filed a petition in Cook County Circuit Court to learn the “account information of the person or persons who authored and published a video and audiotape on YouTube.com that included an illegally and surreptitiously recorded FOP Board of Directors meeting.”
Two videos posted on Sept. 30 show a series of FOP board members’ photos accompanied by an audio recording of a raucous board meeting earlier that month. Someone using the pseudonym “Rahm Wannabee” posted the videos.
The Sept. 13 meeting involved internal charges the FOP board brought against President Michael Shields for an embarrassing paperwork mistake that Mayor Rahm Emanuel later seized upon to deny rank-and-file police officers their automatic right to a retroactive pay raise in 2012.
In December, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police suspended Shields and prohibited him from negotiating with the city after accusing him of violating his oath of office and branding him a “dictator.” An acting president was named to replace Shields.
The YouTube recordings portray a sharply divided board in which Shields and his opponents debated the creation of a committee to investigate the union charges against Shields.
In its petition, the Chicago FOP says it plans to file a lawsuit to seek damages against whoever posted the YouTube recordings, saying they violated the Illinois Eavesdropping Act.
The Jan. 22 petition asks the court to issue an order allowing the FOP to request information from Google including the name, physical address, email address, IP address, Internet service provider and other data related to the poster. Google owns YouTube.
Google typically responds to such requests by contacting the user who posted the item in question. That gives the user the chance to file a motion to block a subpoena for the user’s information, said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil rights group based in San Francisco.
“If the subpoena is issued properly and nobody objects, then Google will comply,” Cardozo said. “Google gets these things all the time. They have an entire department devoted to responding to requests like this.”
Often, subpoenas are appropriately issued, Cardozo said. “If someone has defamed me online, I have the right to issue a subpoena.”
But “it could be true that the video recording was done in the public interest and it’s newsworthy,” he added. “Then there could be a First Amendment reason to object. … It’s our view that these requests are very often abused.”
Google posts an annual report that shows how often the company receives requests for information and complies with them. In 2012, Google received 1,896 search warrants, 5,784 subpoenas and 758 other requests from governments and courts in the United States for information about users and accounts — and complied at least partially with about 90 percent of them, according to the company’s “transparency report.”
A YouTube spokesman said: “We take user privacy very seriously, and whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying.”
Shields and attorneys for the FOP did not respond to requests for comment.
Contributing: Fran Spielman