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March 1st, 2010
01:00 PM ET

States may ban release of emergency calls

(CNN) – 911 calls can show us how lives were saved, and sometimes how they could have been saved. Now, several states are considering laws that would keep the public from hearing the recordings.

Does a caller's right to privacy trump your right to hear it?

Susan Howley, spokesperson for the National Center for Victims of Crime, supports banning the release of the calls. David Cuillier, chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee, says releasing emergency calls can do a public service. They debated the issue with us on Monday's American Morning.

Filed under: Controversy • Justice
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. mackenzie fish

    I can’t imagine how it must feel to loose a loved one, and not only that but to have to hear it on repeat over and over. Our societies obsession with invading others personal privacy has become a part of our daily lives. You can’t turn on the television news or Hollywood entertainment program without hearing a recording of a 911 emergency call. In my opinion people have no right to release an emergency call unless they’ve received permission from a family member. I don’t understand why the entire nation must hear these calls, what good could it possibly do to broadcast the screams and cries of a helpless person being murdered, raped, or watching their loved ones die? Our need for this kind of entertainment is out of control. A young Florida resident and the mother of two young boys, Denise Lee’s emergency 911 phone call was broadcasted for weeks, and because we live in a world of technology.. her children won’t be able to grow up without hearing their mother suffer. I think the press is abusing its rights, this sort of indecency is not what the Founding Fathers had intended when freedom of the press laws were written.

    March 18, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  2. john

    If you dont want your 911 call all over the media dont call 911 that will ensure that your right to privacy. Right ?
    Well if you need to hear someone's 911 call to be entertained then you really need some kind of help.This is a private matter. as far as I'm concerned.

    March 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  3. LyndaLBD

    People everywhere make mistakes, granted. And there are those people who do or say stupid things, i.e. individual calls 911 over 200 times in 3 days and he should be charged for wasting the dispatcher's and police time over being stupid. (Ron White: ya just can't fix stupid).

    But I personally, don't think releasing the tapes of 911 is for public consumption. Use them for court cases, yes, that is evidence. But putting this sort of material on tv for the sake of entertainment, no, sorry, that's not the proper place for it. Its a waste of public service and in bad taste all around. Its not for entertainment use in the first place. Its bad enough, to see Police Wildest Videos, watching stupid people doing stupid things, and harming others in their evasion of police custody. But the tapes, telling us about individuals who are suffering at the hands of others while discussing the problem that is supposed to be in strict confidence of the caller, that's not entertainment and that's really none of our business. Trust is violated here!

    March 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  4. stephanie

    personally, i am tired of having my heart broken by hearing, repeatedly, people's fear and desperation in some of these calls. any decent human being hearing this stuff in real time would want nothing more than to help. if there is something to be gained for the " public good" by knowing the content of any 911 call, a transcript will suffice. a transcript of the call placed in the moments before the Toyota crash would have provided the same info as playing the recording. i think it positively abhorrent that these families have no notification that the last moments of a loved one's life is going to be aired for public consumption. these calls have become nothing more than a way to sensationalize what is already a terrible event, or, in some cases, a completely un-newsworthy one.

    March 3, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  5. J.

    Sorry Howie but you are wrong...How would you like it if I aired all of your dirty laundry, your social security number and naked pictures of you in the shower for everyone to see? I bet you wouldn't! Somethings should not be made pubic and if people do not want their calls aired they shouldn't be.

    March 2, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  6. mack

    Thank you for calling 911. If you grant us the right to release a recording of your call, please press 1, otherwise, please press 2. For a dispatcher who speaks english, press 1, for spanish press 2. If this is a life threatening emergency, please ....

    March 2, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  7. Dennis

    BTW, if you believe 911 calls are voyeuristic, what are your opinions of police dash-cam or news-copter videos?

    March 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  8. Dennis

    The real question here is that of intent. Why are the States contemplating a ban on the release of 911 calls? And released to whom? The 911 instructor should be allowed access for educational purposes. Most likely, calls to 911 are public record. So, anybody can get a copy, which is important if you're involved in a lawsuit - either as plaintiff or defense. However, just because something is public record doesn't mean it is broadcast to the public. Scott's correct in his comment about Common Sense. There's no need to broadcast an hysterical dad's pleas for help. On the other hand, rude or unresponsive 911 operators need to be exposed.

    March 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  9. Scott

    This isn't about privacy, or freedom of speech, or anything else they're claiming. The journalists want to be able to use the tapes so that they can find something to sensationalize to sell thier next story. The states are trying to stop it because they're not getting their piece of the pie.

    I'm all for freedom of speech, so long as it doesn't violate my right to privacy. For this to work, neither can be absolute. That's where a long lost art called "COMMON SENSE" is suppose to come into play. But, as I have learned the hard way, "Common Sense" isn't very common anymore, and in many people, it doesn't exist at all.

    Common Sense and Deciency, two ideals very lacking in today's world of shock journalism.

    March 2, 2010 at 1:26 am |
  10. Loutricia

    I think the 911 call should be considered with the same regard as the patients medical record which is protected by the HIPPA laws. It should only be released to police, attorneys and legal agencies. I personally would think twice about calling 911 if something of a personal nature had happened.I would call the police directly hoping that it would be handled with more concern and privacey.

    March 2, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  11. lee

    the calls should be kept private, these calls catch people at their most vurnerable.

    March 2, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  12. Chad

    The general public doesn't need access to emergency 911 calls for the purpose of their own entertainment. I have yet to hear even one, just ONE, good reason why the last desperate words of a crime victim need to be plastered all over the internet and TV. The "journalists" (and I sue that term extremely loosely) who advocate for this kind of release are just hoping to profit from the misery of others. "Journalists," LOL What a joke.

    March 1, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  13. Limnologym

    911 calls should be left private.

    March 1, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  14. Mark

    The caller should have a right to keep the recording private.

    March 1, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  15. Zaphod

    As a 911 instructor having open access to 911 calls is valuable as they allow me to use them in classes to show potencial 911 operators calls that went well and calls that went bad.

    Yes, as an instructor I can get call from my own agency, but these are somewhat limited. Banning 911 calls going into the public sphere would limit what I can get from other states, etc.

    I really don't think the the issue is whether the agency will get sued or not. If the person on the other end of the phone think that the call was handled badly they can easily get a lawyer to get a hold of a call for with a supena. It will not deflect lawsuits.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  16. Jeremy Portland Oregon

    Dispatch is mostly a public entity, funded with taxpayer money. 911 recordings that identify a person reporting a crime could have serious ramifications. A criminal could simply figure out who the caller was and retaliate against the person who turned them in. In criminal cases it might be wise not to release the tapes without first consulting the district attourney. However, emergency calls that do not fit the classification above should remain public just so people who make stupid calls like "McDonalds gave me cold french fries" can be publicly ridiculed.

    March 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  17. rich

    Freedom requires that personal rights are protected by law, otherwise you are talking about anarchy and not true freedom. I think in this case the freedom of personal privacy trumps the freedom of information. Too often these calls are played for entertainment purposes at the expense of individuals involved in personal tragedies.

    March 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  18. Rod in Texas

    I agree with Albert. If the caller doesn't mind, why should the state? We need less gov't intervention into our personal freedoms, not more!

    March 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  19. sheila

    I wasn't aware that callers to 911 'owned' the recordings, or have any say in the matter.

    I think it is ok for the public to hear particular 911 calls, for example, when the behavior of the operator receiving the call is in question. It keeps a 'checks and balances' on the agencies and employees of emergency calls.

    March 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  20. choptop

    I think a person's moments of fear, danger, and possibly death should be a private matter, instead of being released to the public where jerkoffs like Opie & Anthony can make fun of them. They could be embarrassing to the people involved, or in the worst-case a painful reminder for their families.

    March 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  21. dave

    I don't see what there is to be gained by listening to a mother freak out because she just pulled her lifeless toddler out of the pool. Most of what I hear is voyeuristic, rather than journalistic.

    March 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  22. marie

    What kind of public service is being served by the playing of these calls? I don't need to know anyone else's business unless my loved ones are involved. The only purpose served is to satisfy the prurient curiosity of the public for sensationalism, violence and gore. They should be released to the families, law enforcement and legal teams if needed to pursue crimes and/or lawsuits.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  23. Danielle

    There is a difference in being truly free and having a 911 calls released. The release of say a woman having her throat slit while being raped and the Toyota call referenced in the video would be totally different and the families should have the power to stop their release to the public.

    The first would serve no purpose in anyway but to victimize the family all over again. The Toyota call may have brought attention to the problem but still the family should have been given the option of releasing the final moments of their loved ones lives for the public to hear.

    There is a different between freedom and simple human decency.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  24. albert

    "I think the people should be given the choice to say if can be played or not."

    March 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  25. KJ

    It's now "land of those who do not want to get sued". This is not about privacy rights, it's about a CYA for the states.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  26. Howie

    truely free people never ban anything!! so are we free or not??? what happened to my "land of the free and home of the brave??"

    March 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm |