The Ouachita Citizen, a local newspaper in West Monroe, Louisiana, published a video of the newly-elected Congressman, Vance McAllister, kissing an aide in McAllister’s Monroe office. The video shows surveillance footage from cameras located inside and outside of McAllister’s office. Sam Hanna Jr., the publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, said the video was obtained via an envelope from an anonymous source. Who acquired the footage from McAllister’s office is unknown.
Interestingly, this presents a similar situation, presumably unlawfully obtained confidential information anonymously sent to the media, as that in Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), a United States Supreme Court case from 2001. In Bartnicki, an unidentified person intercepted and recorded a phone call between Gloria Bartnicki, the chief negotiator for a teachers’ union, and Anthony Kane, the teachers’ union president, during collective-bargaining negotiations involving the union and the local school board. The conversation included a threat of violent actions by Bartnicki if the union’s demands were not met. Jack Yocum, the head of a local taxpayers’ organization that had opposed the union’s demands, found the tape in his mailbox. Yocum later delivered the tape to Frederick Vopper, a radio commentator who had been critical of the union in the past. Vopper played the tape of the intercepted conversation on his public affairs talk show. It is not clear how or who obtained the intercepted recording; thus, Bartnicki and Kane filed suit against Vopper, and later Yocum, for playing a recording which they knew or should have known was obtained illegally. Ultimately the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protected the disclosure of illegally intercepted communications by parties who did not participate in the illegal interception.
Thus, fortunately for Hanna and The Ouachita Citizen, even if the surveillance video was obtained illegally, if they did not participate in the illegal activity, their disclosure of the video is likely protected by the Frist Amendment. However, if the identity of the leaker is discovered, a connection to Hanna or The Ouachita Citizen may expose them to liability.