HARRISBURG -- A bill scheduled for a vote in the state House today has advocates of open government concerned about restricted public access to 911 call information.
The proposed change was put forth in response to a Commonwealth Court decision that required York County to release destination addresses or cross-street information with its 911 time response logs, according to a memorandum about the legislation from its sponsor, Rep. Joe Hackett, R-Delaware.
The legislation would prohibit the release of identifying information for individuals calling 911 -- such as a caller's name, phone number and address -- without a court order, according to Mr. Hackett's memo seeking co-sponsors.
Currently, such information is not normally public, though officials can release it if they decide it is in the public interest.
"We really don't want to see any language that will restrict the ability of government officials to release information, and that's what this bill would do," said Paula Knudsen, director of legal affairs for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Ms. Knudsen pointed to a 2008 incident in Doylestown, Bucks County, when a woman with multiple sclerosis trapped in a burning bed was put on hold when she called 911, and an incident in Philadelphia where a teen died after emergency responders failed to respond to 911 calls. In both instances, basic cross street information was critical to the public's understanding of what happened, she said.
Mr. Hackett could not be reached for comment Monday.
"I believe this legislation is needed to ensure the safety and privacy of individuals who call 911 for emergency services," his memo said. "The information recorded during 911 calls can often contain very sensitive details that, if released to the public, could pose a grave danger to callers and victims. In addition, it will ensure that people who report crimes and witnesses are afforded protection and are able to remain anonymous."
Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records, which generally favors greater public access to records held by government, also doesn't support the bill, said Chadwick Schnee, assistant chief counsel for the agency.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a major force behind the creation of the state's Right to Know Law, said while he understands privacy concerns, there are good reasons releasing information about where emergency services are dispatched.
"For example, the public certainly has a compelling interest in -- and a right to review -- the length of time that it takes for emergency services to arrive after a call to 911," wrote the spokesman, Erik Arneson, in an email.
"If it routinely takes longer for such services to be provided in some neighborhoods, that's a real issue that should be addressed -- and may only be revealed by the release of this kind of information."
Kate Giammarise: email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.