Legal Hotline: 911 Audio

  • May 04, 2017

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  Are 911 call recordings and transcripts public records under the Right to Know Law?

A:  The Right to Know Law makes 911 audio recordings and transcripts non-public, but the law allows the records to be released when it serves the public interest. 911 time response logs are public records under the law.

Section 708(b)(18) of the Right to Know Law exempts from public access:

“Records or parts of records, except time response logs, pertaining to audio recordings, telephone or radio transmissions received by emergency dispatch personnel, including 911 recordings.”

This language allows agencies to deny requests for 911 audio recordings and transcripts.  However, section 708(b)(18) also states:

“This paragraph shall not apply to a 911 recording, or a transcript of a 911 recording, if the agency or a court determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.”

This provision gives the agency, or a court, discretion to release 911 audio and transcripts when it serves the public interest.  Journalists making requests for 911 audio or transcripts should consider making a public interest argument illustrating why public access is appropriate as part of the request.

Journalists should also be aware that section 708(b)(18) expressly provides public access to 911 time response logs, which should, at a minimum, contain the date, the nature of the call, time the call was received, time of dispatch, place of dispatch, time of arrival, and incident location (cross street, block identifier or mile marker). 

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.

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