Is Disclosing a 911 Call to the Public a Privacy Violation?

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6 Responses

  1. Gerard Magliocca says:

    I agree 100% Dan. I’ve always wondered about why state law mandates their release. There are some cases where it might be a good idea — when you’re looking for a suspect, let’s say — but most of the time making that information public is useless.

  2. Justin says:

    See NY Times Co. v. City of N.Y. Fire Dep’t, 829 NE2d 266, 270-71 (NY 2005) (holding that private 911 callers’ component of the recordings, but not necessarily the operators’ half of the conversation, were protected from release under state FOIL).

  3. Adam says:

    It is time to bring this practice to an end. Invariably 911 calls involve the most unspeakable tragedies that people suffer in life. The callers are desperate and the things they are describing are extremely private. By calling 911, you are not consenting to those horrible and extremely private moments in your life to be played on the local news.

    What states should do is pass a law treating these calls as privileged, much like the physician-patient or attorney-client privilege. The rationale is the same, that is protecting the privacy of the communication encourages people to seek help and to be open with the 911 operator, doctor or lawyer so the best possible assistance can be rendered.

  4. Lorna says:

    @3/Adam – If states pass laws making 911 calls privileged information, then what happens to the press “check” on the government agencies that are involved in response to the 911 calls? I agree that most of the time when a 911 tape is played on TV, it is for prurient reasons. However, there have been times where such tapes have shown the incompetence of the 911 operators. These 911 operators are public employees. The press is the public’s advocate — its ears and eyes — in making sure government acts in the public’s interest. If you shield these calls from all press scrutiny, you allow incompetent government employees the ability to hide.

    Perhaps a compromise could be reached where 911 tapes are not automatically released but can be accessed for private listening by the media. The press could have the right to petition a court for their release if there were a compelling public interest in their disclosure. In the interim, written transcripts could be made available.

    Just some ideas for ways to mediate this conflict between two conflicting rights (privacy and the public’s right to know what the heck its government is doing).

  5. John francis says:

    There are times when the release of the tape is harmless. I.e. a police car rear ended my car believing a crime was being committed. The first 911 call was made by a retired police officer who described the incident as a “car-jacking”. The pd filed an accident report stating I hit their car. This 911 tape will help in proving the pd lied when they made a claim with my insurance co.