CHICAGO (Aug. 31, 2016) – A new report from the nonpartisan government watchdog group Project Six shows how 19 Chicago aldermen are using private, unsecured and untrackable email accounts to conduct city business. Government officials using private email accounts to conduct city business can hide many government records from public information requests and can create a significant lack of government transparency.
The report released today analyzes the digital communications and platforms used by Chicago aldermen. The report reveals that 19 city aldermen list private email accounts as primary ways of contacting them for city business. The report also shows how many aldermen use privately owned informational ward websites to collect constituent information for city services requests outside of the official 311 system.
“The public has a right to know how government officials are serving constituents and spending tax dollars,” said Faisal Khan, CEO of Project Six. “The public’s ability to request and obtain information on how their elected officials are carrying out their government duties is a critical tool to ensure that right is upheld. Chicago aldermen using private email accounts to conduct official city business makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to access public information without a court order. It is not acceptable for Chicago aldermen to be conducting city business in an opaque and insecure fashion by using private emails. Regardless of whether these actions are accidents or purposeful attempts to keep their work out of the public eye, they need to stop, and all city business should be done openly and honestly.”
Some highlights from the report—titled “Email confidential: The need for digital transparency in Chicago government”—include:
- There are 19 Chicago aldermen using private email accounts to conduct city business. The City of Chicago provides all aldermen and city employees with city-run emails that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
- Correspondence from aldermen on private email accounts is difficult if not impossible for the public to obtain through Freedom of Information Act requests without a court order.
- There are 45 aldermen who own private websites for information about their respective wards.
- More than 30 of the private websites owned by aldermen gather constituent personal information for city services requests outside of the city’s 311 service.
- Aldermen gathering constituent information on private websites is not regulated and opens constituent personal information to possible use for political purposes.
The use of private email accounts has been dealt with recently in Chicago when the Chicago Tribune won a lawsuit against City Hall to release emails discussing city business from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that were sent from a private email account. Public officials using private email accounts for government business was also at issue when it was revealed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a private email account and server to conduct government business. In both of these cases, the court or FBI stated that government officials should not be using private email accounts for government business, and that those correspondences are subject to the FOIA—although when dealing with private email accounts, it often takes a court order for records to be turned over with an FOIA request.
The full report is available online here
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Project Six is a nonpartisan group dedicated to investigating and ending government corruption in Chicago and Illinois. Working with residents, Project Six hopes to make Illinois’ elected officials work for taxpayers and voters, not for the politically connected or corrupt. Anyone interested in learning more about Project Six or submitting a tip to Project Six investigators should call (888) 366-2569 or visit thesecretsix.com.