Tennessee lawmaker seeks to make 911 calls confidential

A Tennessee lawmaker is seeking to make 911 calls confidential.

Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, has filed HB 335 which would amend the Tennessee Public Records Act to say:

State Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, represents Marshall and part of Franklin, Lincoln, and Marion Counties. He has filed a bill to make 911 confidential.

(1) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, 911 calls, transmissions, and recordings of an emergency communications district and emergency communications board under title 7, chapter 86, are confidential and may be used only for public safety purposes and as necessary for law enforcement, fire, medical, rescue, dispatching, or other emergency services.

(2) A 911 call, transmission, or recording may be released to another party with the written consent of the caller whose voice is captured on the call, transmission, or recording.

(3) Nothing in this subsection ( ) may be construed to limit access to 911 calls, transmissions, or recordings by law enforcement agencies, courts, or other governmental agencies performing official functions.

Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, has the bill, SB 386, in the Senate.

The House bill has been assigned to the Public Service and Employee Subcommittee of the House State Committee. The Senate bill is referred to the Senate State & Local Committee. Neither bill is on the calendar to be heard yet.

Most states allow 911 calls to be open with some exceptions

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’s Open Government Guide, 911 tapes in most states are open as a public record although sometimes they can fall under a law enforcement “investigatory” exemption or can be subject to confidentiality under specific conditions. For example, Georgia law places restrictions on calls that 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.”

911 calls have also been used to expose problems with 911 systems, including understaffing, underfunding, or other technical problems. (See ‘You’re supposed to be there for us’: Dallas 911 system remains a gamble for callers)

The Knoxville News Sentinel published 911 calls from people calling in about the Gatlinburg fires, showing what was happening as the fire spread and the help given by emergency responders. The Knoxville newspaper also used 911 calls as part of an investigation into the way the sheriff’s office handles deputy-involved wrecks.



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