Hackett Sponsors Bill to Protect Identity of 9-1-1 Callers

Barrar committed to moving the proposal out of committee 

In an attempt to protect the privacy of individuals who call 9-1-1, Rep. Joe Hackett (R-Delaware) has introduced legislation to protect the identity of callers to the state’s emergency phone lines. 

“As a former police officer and detective, I am aware of the necessity of protecting the privacy of crime victims and witnesses who could be placed in danger if their location is revealed,” Hackett said. “This bill is designed to protect them, while giving the courts the oversight to release that information if it is deemed in the public interest.” 

House Bill 1174 provides an exemption to the state’s Right-to-Know law for records containing identifying information of an individual who calls a 9-1-1 center, unless a court determines public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.   

Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), a co-sponsor of House Bill 1174 and majority chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, noted that the legislation is in reaction to a decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in the case of County of York v. Pennsylvania Open Records and Ted Czech.  The decision puts victims and innocent bystanders in danger by requiring public access to geographic information about where 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 was not provided geographic information identifying the location of the 9-1-1 caller.  The newspaper appealed to the Office of Open Records, which decided in favor of the newspaper.  York County appealed the ruling in court, but lost. 

“In this age of electronic media, the moment the address of a 9-1-1 caller is released, that person’s identity is compromised,” Barrar said.  “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.” 

“As the current law has been interpreted by the courts, citizens who need help in an emergency to protect their life and property must sacrifice their very safety and security to receive help,” said Dan Tancibok, director of the Centre County 9-1-1/Emergency Communications.  “The courts have held that the name, address and phone number of each 9-1-1 caller, along with the reason for their emergency call, is a public record.  This means anyone can routinely request those records, without regard to what the requestor intends to do with that information.  The potential for abuse is frightening.” 

The lawmakers noted 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 because doing so could put the callers in danger. 

“It is time to correct the alarming harm to victims of domestic violence and other crimes that stands as a result of the court’s current interpretation of Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law,” said Ellen Kramer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  “The Commonwealth’s Protection from Abuse Act, Address Confidentiality Law, Crime Victim Act and child custody law all offer unequivocal protections from the public disclosure of any information that would lead to the location of a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and other crimes.  These laws specify that information, including the address of the victim, simply cannot be disclosed.” 

House Bill 1174 has the support of county 9-1-1 center dispatchers, victim rights groups, and law enforcement organizations including the Keystone Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (PA NENA), the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International (PA APCO), the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. 

State Representative Joe Hackett
161st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
State Representative Steve Barrar
160th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  David Foster
Facebook.com/RepHackett or Facebook.com/RepBarrar

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