Legal Hotline: 911 Recordings and Transcripts

Legal Hotline: 911 Recordings and Transcripts

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 it also allows the records to be released when it serves the public interest. Emergency time response logs are expressly 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 when requesting access to 911 recordings and transcripts.

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 on scene.
  • Incident location (address or in some cases, closest cross street, block identifier or mile marker).

Time response logs can contain additional information as well, and some emergency response agencies provide proactive public access to these records.

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