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April 05, 2011

911 Services: Should 911 Calls be Confidential or Public Record?


By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor


According to Sparta, Tenn.’s online newspaper, The Expositor, a law calling for 911 service calls and the transmissions of those calls to be confidential, was reviewed by the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee last week.

Boiled down, the proposed law would say “all 911 calls and transmissions of such calls received pursuant to this chapter and all tapes containing records of such calls shall remain confidential and be used only for the purpose of handling emergency calls and for public safety purposes as may be needed for law enforcement, fire, medical, rescue, dispatching, or other emergency services. The 911 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.”

However, according to the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, those backing this law claim the safety and privacy of these 911 callers would be protected if access to emergency calls was restricted. There, of course, is the possibility of callers granting written permission to outside callers, who could also retrieve a court order.

According to the editorial writer at the Leaf-Chronicle, the bill’s supporters say “it is possible for those who made 911 calls to be intimidated into not reporting future crimes because others can ascertain their identities. Those who contact 911 also can be embarrassed when media outlets broadcast the calls.”

Opponents say this information should be freely available under the Freedom of Information Act. The crux of their opposition is their feeling that closing the records “can lead to greater government secrecy. Mistakes can be covered up more easily. Misconduct can be overlooked,” according to the Leaf-Chronicle.

"It's a government-funded function with services that the public relies on," Tennessee Coalition for Open Government executive director Frank Gibson told The Tennessean. "If it all gets closed, there would be no public oversight by citizens and the press."

E911 legislation is an ongoing debate that’s likely to never cease. However, the more it’s brought to the forefront, the more likely E911 solutions will be adopted to meet legislated E911 requirements – thus protecting users and reducing liability risks.


David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.


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