Legal Hotline: 911 Recordings and Transcripts

Legal Hotline: 911 Recordings and Transcripts

PNA Legal Hotline

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

A:  The Right to Know Law allows agencies to deny access to 911 audio recordings and transcripts, but the law also allows the records to be released when it serves the public interest.  Emergency 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 – but does not require – agencies to deny requests for 911 audio recordings and transcripts.  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 make a public interest argument as part of the request, illustrating why public access is appropriate and permitted by law.

Journalists should also be aware that section 708(b)(18) expressly provides public access to emergency 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, time of release, and incident location (specific address or closest 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.