State Laws Relating to Confidentiality of 9-1-1 Call Recordings and Photographs of Emergency Scenes
Updated Nov. 19, 2014
When news outlets play recordings of 911 calls, they reveal the distressed voices of victims of crime or others reporting accidents. For some victims, the recordings are painful reminders of incidents they wish would remain private, and they may include information about medical conditions or mental health concerns. For members of the media and others, the public has a right to these recordings, which can provide accountability if there are problems with how calls are handled by the agencies that respond to 911 emergency calls.
Six states—Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming—keep 911 call recordings confidential. Five other states—Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina and South Dakota—place some restrictions on the release of 911 calls or the information contained in them. Excerpts from and links to state laws follow.
In a related area, two states, Connecticut and New Jersey, prohibit emergency responders from taking or disseminating photographs or videos of an emergency scene without consent of the victim or patient. These laws were enacted after photographs of victims at emergency scenes were posted on social media sites, before family members knew of the accident or without their knowledge.
Confidentiality of 9-1-1 Call Recordings
Ala. Code § 11-98-12
Release of audio recording; public records; transcript
(a) After April 21, 2010, an emergency communications district may not release the audio recording of a 911 telephone call except pursuant to a court order finding that the right of the public to the release of the recording outweighs the privacy interests of the individual who made the 911 call or any person involved in the facts or circumstances relating to the 911 call. This section shall not apply to law enforcement personnel conducting an investigation where the 911 telephone call is or may be relevant to the investigation.
b) An audio recording may be released without a court order to the caller whose voice is on the 911 audio recording or, in the event that the caller is deceased or incapacitated, to the legal representative of the caller or the caller's estate, provided the person seeking the 911 audio recording submits a sworn affidavit to include sufficient information so that the emergency communications district director may verify the statements which attest to the following facts:
(1) That the person signing the affidavit is the caller or that the caller is deceased or incapacitated and the person signing the affidavit is the legal representative of the caller or the caller's estate.
(2) That release of the 911 audio recording is pertinent to the investigation of a legal matter resulting from the events necessitating the making of the 911 call at issue.
(c) Notwithstanding subsection (a), any written or electronic record detailing the circumstances, response, or other events related to a 911 call which is kept by the emergency communications district in its regular course of business shall be deemed a public writing under Section 36-12-40, and subject to public inspection as otherwise provided by law.
(d) Upon payment of a reasonable fee, not to exceed the actual cost of transcription, an emergency communications district shall provide a transcript of any requested audio recording of a 911 telephone call which is retained by the emergency communications district.
Ga. Code § 50-18-72.
When public disclosure is not required; disclosure of exempting legal authority
(a) Public disclosure shall not be required for records that are:
(1) Specifically required by federal statute or regulation to be kept confidential;
(26) Unless the request is made by the accused in a criminal case or by his or her attorney, public records of an emergency 9-1-1 system, as defined in paragraph (5) of Code Section 46-5-122, containing information which would reveal the name, address, or telephone number of a person placing a call to a public safety answering point. Such information may be redacted from such records if necessary to prevent the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source, to prevent disclosure of material which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or persons, or to prevent the disclosure of the existence of a confidential surveillance or investigation;
(26.1) In addition to the exemption provided by paragraph (26) of this subsection, audio recordings of a 9-1-1 telephone call to a public safety answering point which contain the speech in distress or cries in extremis of a caller who died during the call or the speech or cries of a person who was a minor at the time of the call, except to the following, provided that the person seeking the audio recording of a 9-1-1 telephone call submits a sworn affidavit that attests to the facts necessary to establish eligibility under this paragraph:
(A) A duly appointed representative of a deceased caller's estate;
(B) A parent or legal guardian of a minor caller;
(C) An accused in a criminal case when, in the good faith belief of the accused, the audio recording of the 9-1-1 telephone call is relevant to his or her criminal proceeding;
(D) A party to a civil action when, in the good faith belief of such party, the audio recording of the 9-1-1 telephone call is relevant to the civil action;
(E) An attorney for any of the persons identified in subparagraphs (A) through (D) of this paragraph; or
(F) An attorney for a person who may pursue a civil action when, in the good faith belief of such attorney, the audio recording of the 9-1-1 telephone call is relevant
to the potential civil action;
25 M.R.S. §2929 (4)
4. Audio recordings of E-9-1-1 calls; confidential. Audio recordings of emergency calls made to the E-9-1-1 system are confidential and may not be disclosed except as provided in this subsection. Except as provided in subsection 2, information contained in the audio recordings is public information and must be disclosed in transcript form in accordance with subsection 3. Subject to all the requirements of subsection 2, the bureau or a public safety answering point may disclose audio recordings of emergency calls made to the E-9-1-1 system in the following circumstances:
A. To persons within the E-9-1-1 system to the extent necessary to implement and manage the E-9-1-1 system;
B. To a law enforcement officer or law enforcement agency for the purpose of criminal investigations related to an E-9-1-1 call;
C. To designees of the bureau director for the purpose of system maintenance and quality control; and
D. In accordance with an order issued on a finding of good cause by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Minn. Stat. § 13.82, Subd. 4.
Audio recording of 911 call.
The audio recording of a call placed to a 911 system for the purpose of requesting service from a law enforcement, fire, or medical agency is private data on individuals with respect to the individual making the call, except that a written transcript of the audio recording is public, unless it reveals the identity of an individual otherwise protected under subdivision 17. A transcript shall be prepared upon request. The person requesting the transcript shall pay the actual cost of transcribing the call, in addition to any other applicable costs provided under section 13.03, subdivision 3. The audio recording may be disseminated to law enforcement agencies for investigative purposes. The audio recording may be used for public safety and emergency medical services training purposes.
Miss. Code §19-5-319.
Automatic number and location data base information; taped records of calls; confidentiality; nonidentifying records to be made available to public [Repealed effective July 1, 2010].
(1) Automatic number identification (ANI), automatic location identification (ALI) and geographic automatic location identification (GeoALI) information that consist of the name, address and telephone number of telephone or wireless subscribers shall be confidential, and the dissemination of the information contained in the 911 automatic number and location data base is prohibited except for the following purpose: the information will be provided to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) on a call-by-call basis only for the purpose of handling emergency calls or for training, and any permanent record of the information shall be secured by the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and disposed of in a manner which will retain that security, except upon court order or subpoena from a court of competent jurisdiction or as otherwise provided by law.
(2) All emergency telephone calls and telephone call transmissions received pursuant to Section 19-5-301 et seq., and all recordings of the emergency telephone calls, shall remain confidential and shall be used only for the purposes as may be needed for law enforcement, fire, medical rescue or other emergency services. These recordings shall not be released to any other parties without court order or subpoena from a court of competent jurisdiction.
Missouri Rev. Stat. §610.150.
"911" telephone reports inaccessible, exceptions.
Except as provided by this section, any information acquired by a law enforcement agency by way of a complaint or report of a crime made by telephone contact using the emergency number, "911", shall be inaccessible to the general public. However, information consisting of the date, time, specific location and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding the initial report of the crime or incident shall be considered to be an incident report and subject to section 610.100. Any closed records pursuant to this section shall be available upon request by law enforcement agencies or the division of workers' compensation or pursuant to a valid court order authorizing disclosure upon motion and good cause shown.
(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, and unless otherwise prohibited by law, the following information shall be public records within the meaning of G.S. 132-1.
(4) The contents of "911" and other emergency telephone calls received by or on behalf of public law enforcement agencies, except for such contents that reveal the natural voice, name, address, telephone number, or other information that may identify the caller, victim, or witness. In order to protect the identity of the complaining witness, the contents of "911" and other emergency telephone calls may be released pursuant to this section in the form of a written transcript or altered voice reproduction; provided that the original shall be provided under process to be used as evidence in any relevant civil or criminal proceeding.
65 P.S. §67.708 (PA Uncons. Stat. 2008 Act 3)
This paragraph shall not apply to information contained in a police blotter as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 9102 (relating to definitions) and utilized or maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police, local, campus, transit or port authority police department or other law enforcement agency or in a traffic report except as provided under 75 Pa.C.S. § 3754(b)(relating to accident prevention investigations). ...
(18)(i) 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.
(ii) 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.
R.I. Gen. Laws §39-21.1-17
Confidentiality of calls.
All telephone calls and telephone call transmissions received pursuant to this chapter and all tapes containing records of telephone calls shall remain confidential and used only for the purpose of handling emergency calls and for public safety purposes as may be needed for law enforcement, fire, medical, rescue or other emergency services. The calls shall not be released to any other parties without the written consent of the caller whose voice is recorded, or upon order of the court.
S.D. Cod. Laws §1-27-1.5
Certain records not open to inspection and copying.
The following records are not subject to §§ 1-27-1, 1-27-1.1, and 1-27-1.3:
...(5) Records developed or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with duties of investigation or examination of persons, institutions, or businesses, if the records constitute a part of the examination, investigation, intelligence information, citizen complaints or inquiries, informant identification, or strategic or tactical information used in law enforcement training. However, this subdivision does not apply to records so developed or received relating to the presence of and amount or concentration of alcohol or drugs in any body fluid of any person, and this subdivision does 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 law in no way abrogates or changes §§ 23-5-7 and 23-5-11 or testimonial privileges applying to the use of information from confidential informants...
Wyo. Stat. §16-4-203.
Right of inspection; grounds for denial; access of news media; order permitting or restricting disclosure; exceptions.
(a) The custodian of any public records shall allow any person the right of inspection of the records or any portion thereof except on one (1) or more of the following grounds or as provided in subsection (b) or (d) of this section: …
(x) Information obtained through a 911 emergency telephone system or through a verification system for motor vehicle insurance or bond as provided under W.S. 31-4-103(e) except to law enforcement personnel or public agencies for the purpose of conducting official business, to the person in interest, or pursuant to a court order...
*NOTE: Does not include statutes related only to the confidentiality of records held in 911 databases (e.g., customer name, address, etc.). See, e.g., 2009 CT 2009 S.B. 761, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.5 and 30 V.S.A. § 7059.
Taking or Disseminating Photos or Videos of an Emergency Scene
Conn. Gen. Stats. sec. 53-341c. Unauthorized taking or transmission by first responders of images of crime or accident victims. Any peace officer or firefighter, as those terms are defined in section 53a-3, or any ambulance driver, emergency medical responder, emergency medical technician or paramedic, as those terms are defined in section 19a-175, who responds to a request to provide medical or other assistance to a person and, other than in the performance of his or her duties, knowingly (1) takes a photographic or digital image of such person without the consent of such person or a member of such person's immediate family, or (2) transmits, disseminates or otherwise makes available to a third person a photographic or digital image of such person without the consent of such person or a member of such person's immediate family, shall be fined not more than two thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-210
(b) Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be construed to require disclosure of: ...
(27) Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state, or municipal governmental agency consisting of a photograph, film, video or digital or other visual image depicting the victim of a homicide, to the extent that such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim's surviving family members
...(e) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivisions (1) and (16) of subsection (b) of this section, disclosure shall be required of:
...Sec. 3. Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes or any special act, a law enforcement agency shall not be required to disclose that portion of an audio tape or other recording where the individual speaking on the recording describes the condition of a victim of homicide, except for a recording that consists of an emergency 9-1-1 call or other call for assistance made by a member of the public to a law enforcement agency. This section shall apply to any request for such audio tape or other recording made on or before May 7, 2014.
N.J. Stat. sec. 2A:58D-2 Definitions relative to invasion of privacy relative to first responders; violations, penalties.
1. a. As used in this section:
"Disclose" means to sell, manufacture, give, provide, lend, trade, mail, deliver, transfer, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, advertise, or offer.
"First responder" means a law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer firefighter, paid or volunteer member of a duly incorporated first aid, emergency, ambulance, or rescue squad association, or any other individual who, in the course of his employment, is dispatched to the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation for the purpose of providing medical care or other assistance.
b.A first responder who is dispatched to or is otherwise present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation, for the purpose of providing medical care or other assistance, shall not photograph, film, videotape, record, or otherwise reproduce in any manner, the image of a person being provided medical care or other assistance, except in accordance with applicable rules, regulations, or operating procedures of the agency employing the first responder.
c.A first responder shall not disclose any photograph, film, videotape, record, or other reproduction of the image of a person being provided medical care or other assistance at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation without the prior written consent of the person, or the person's next-of-kin if the person cannot provide consent, unless that disclosure was for a legitimate law enforcement, public safety, health care, or insurance purpose or pursuant to a court order.
d.A person who knowingly violates the provisions of subsection c. of this section shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.
e.In addition to any other right of action or recovery otherwise available under the laws of this State, a first responder who knowingly violates the provisions of subsection b. or c. of this section shall be liable to the person whose image was taken or disclosed, who may bring a civil action in the Superior Court.
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