Illinois "LEADS" Information Exempt from Disclosure Under FOIA - Law Enforcement Agencies Data System
The possibility of sensitive information being disclosed to a sheriff's teenage son became a highly controversial issue in DuPage County in the case of Better Government Association v. Zaruba, 2014 IL App (2d) 140071. In that case, the Better Government Association ("BGA") requested records that would disclose the vehicles and persons who were subject to the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System ("LEADS") inquiries allegedly conducted by the DuPage County Sheriff's son. At age 17, Patrick Zaruba was given access to LEADS, which could have allowed him to view information about licensed drivers in Illinois as well as sensitive information about crime related matters, including gang activity and stolen vehicles. For a number of reasons outlined below, the Second District Appellate Court held that Sheriff Zaruba did not have to comply with the requests.
The BGA sought copies of documents relating to Patrick Zaruba's access to LEADS, copies of documents that showed the names of persons who were certified to access the LEADS system, and copies of documents that showed all written communication between the Illinois State Police and the DuPage County Sherriff's office relating to LEADS and/or Patrick Zaruba.
Sheriff Zaruba responded that he was unable to supply any information that would be responsive to the FOIA request because LEADS is controlled by the Illinois State Police. The Sherriff's office did supply copies of an agreement between the Illinois Department of State Police and the DuPage County Sheriff's office regarding LEADS access and Patrick's certificate of completion for a course entitled "LEADS Less Than Full Access." The Sheriff insisted that he would breach the agreement with the Illinois State Police if he provided the requested records to BGA. In addition, the Sheriff claimed that he could not provide the requested information to BGA without intentionally violating the Illinois Administrative Code thereby subjecting himself to potential suspension of LEADS services. As a final point, Sheriff Zaruba contended that there was no evidence that Patrick used the LEADS system and that Patrick's access to the system was never restricted or suspended due to any violation. In his response, Sheriff relied exclusively on section 7(1)(a) of the FOIA, which exempts from disclosure "information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law." 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a). The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the information was exempt from disclosure under section 7(1)(a) of the FOIA, and that a FOIA response to BGA's inquires was not possible. The Second District agreed and held that the state regulations prohibit any disclosure of information relating to LEADS, including inquires performed by LEADS users.
While many FOIA exemptions are specifically stated in the Act, the exemptions that fall within 7(1)(A) require the responder to have an idea of what other federal or state laws provide for. Common scenarios where other laws exempt disclosure involve individuals under the age of 18 or medical information.