Open Records Law Not Intended to Endanger Innocent Bystanders, Says Barrar
2/18/2011

Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), majority chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, today reacted to a decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in the case of County of York v. Pennsylvania Open Records and Ted Czech, which would put victims and innocent bystanders in danger by requiring public access to geographic information from which 9-1-1 calls are made in an emergency. 

The case stems from an incident in which the York Daily Record/Sunday News requested time-response logs, but were not provided geographic information identifying the location of the 9-1-1 caller.  The newspaper responded by appealing to the Office of Open Records, which decided in favor of the newspaper.  York County appealed the ruling in court. 

“The leap from the cross streets to the address of a 9-1-1 caller and then on to the caller’s name and other personal identifiable information takes only a matter of seconds in this age of electronic information,” said Barrar.  “The identity of the caller must be kept confidential to prevent cases of retribution against informants and to ensure the public has a sense of safety and privacy when reporting a crime or other emergency.” 

Barrar noted that it was never the legislative intent of the Open Records Act of 2008 to provide the public with any information that could reveal the identity of 9-1-1 callers.  Doing so could put the callers in danger. 

“I will work with former law enforcement officials who now serve in the House to address this matter because they understand the sensitivity of a caller’s identity.  Our plan is to draft legislation to make it crystal clear to the courts and to the public that information revealing the identity of a 9-1-1 caller is not a record to be included under the Open Records law,” said Barrar.  “While I support the public’s right to access information, I believe we cannot allow this right to usurp the safety of another person.” 

The Keystone Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (PA NENA) and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International (PA APCO) released a joint statement today expressing grave concerns about the release of any 9-1-1 caller’s identifying information and how it could be used for criminal purposes, particularly in cases of domestic violence. 

According to the statement released by NENA and APCO, “The information recorded during 9-1-1 calls can often contain very sensitive information that, if released to the public, could endanger the safety and privacy of individuals.  In addition, we need to ensure that people who report crimes and witnesses are afforded protection and are able to remain anonymous. Otherwise, they may not feel compelled to report what they know to police.”  

The PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which filed an amicus brief in the case, released this statement, “The court’s decision could have the unintended but chilling effect of making an already traumatized and terrified victim think twice about calling 911 for help.” 

Barrar noted that he will cooperate with all stakeholders on this issue to pass legislation clarifying what information can be released from a 9-1-1 call. 

Information about Barrar and his legislative initiatives is available at SteveBarrar.com and Facebook.com/RepBarrar.  

State Representative Steve Barrar
160th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Nicole Wamsley
nwamsley@pahousegop.com
717.783.8063

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