Banning 9-1-1 Call Broadcasts:

An Ohio state senator wants to ban broadcasting the tapes of 911 calls on TV, radio, and the internet. He argues that some people may be reluctant to call 911 to report crimes for fear that the tape will be broadcast and their identity will be revealed. In some states 911 call tapes and transcripts are not public records. In such states, broadcasting the tape is not an issue because the tape is not released. The question here, however, would be whether the state can bar the broadcast of the tape after permitting its release.

I am skeptical of this legislation on both constitutional and policy grounds. It seems to me that there are many less-restrictive means of addressing the alleged problem (if it is a problem in the first place). Among other things, broadcasters could be required to use voice-distorting technology on broadcasts (or the state could use such technology before the tape is publicly released). A more focused rule, perhaps targeted to calls informing the police of violent crimes, would also be less restrictive. One of my colleagues, interviewed for this story, also points out that informants might, in some instances, also be identifiable from the transcript.

I am also skeptical that there is any real problem here to solve. Is there any evidence that people are refusing to call 911 because they are afraid the call will be aired on TV? More likely, this legislation is a response to some of the uses to which 911 calls have been put. For example, when an Ohio middle school teacher committed suicide after being accused of showing pornographic material, the 911 call he placed before killing himself was featured in several tribute (or, in some cases, "anti-tribute") videos on YouTube. Yet this sort of thing would hardly justify a ban on broadcasting a public record.

Rodger Lodger (mail):
Why ban broadcasting, raising a 1st A issue? Why not just keep the tapes from being copied?
4.23.2009 12:57pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Whatever caused this to become a federal issue? Why can't Washington DC just leave the states alone. This or isn't a good idea, but solving it at the federal level guarantees that the ideal solution, found by trial and error by the various states, will not be found.

Where is the 10th Amendment?
4.23.2009 1:45pm

Did you actually read this post? This law is being proposed by a STATE legislator, not a federal one.
4.23.2009 2:49pm
Melancton Smith:
The government is acting to protect itself from the embarrassment created by some of these terrible 9-1-1 calls.
4.23.2009 3:36pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
The best way to handle the problem is, like other states, to exempt 911 calls from the public record statutue.

Make them available only to law enforcement or discoverable (with court approval?) in civil litigation arising from the incident described.

There really is no real general public interest in 911 calls. It is just an appeal to the ghoulish side of people.
4.23.2009 4:16pm
Gaius Obvious:
I've been reluctant to call 911 for fear that my call would be broadcast. So I'm one.
4.23.2009 5:27pm
Reg Dunlop:
Without in any way endorsing the legislative proposal, can someone articulate for me a single good purpose served by broadcasting these things? To me it's just aural voyeurism.
4.23.2009 5:36pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Reg Dunlop,

Broadcasting such tapes gives an idea of how well a particular locale's emergency services responds to a particular situation at a particular time. Without being made public a pattern of poor service would be harder to demonstrate and correct.

A simple example of this would be the numerous 911 calls made about a wildfire last year that ended with the callers being told that it was an intentional burn when that was not in fact the case. If the tapes were squashed from public review the problem may well have remained hidden.
4.23.2009 10:36pm
The fact of a 911 call (time, reported situation, number of calls from the same number) could still be a matter of public record without releasing the content (audio recording, caller's identity).
4.24.2009 6:56am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Something else I find interesting in this vein. The FAA normally doesn't release the cockpit voice recording after a crash, but they made an exception and quickly for the Hudson River crash.

When they are willing to release when it makes everyone look good it makes you wonder what they are hiding when it doesn't.
4.24.2009 11:36am
I am another who will not call 911 because of the danger that the recording of the call will be used for a purpose other than my purpose for making the call. Specifically, if I were to feel a need to call 911 it would be for the purpose of dispatching emergency personnel to a particular location. Nothing else. Since the "powers that be" are not willing to limit their behavior to comport with my wishes, I simply will not call.
4.24.2009 5:14pm
wowgoldstright (mail) (www):
4.28.2009 9:36am

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