March 4, 2010
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter and hope that you will accept my apologies for the delay in response.
Once again, the issue raised involves rights of access to the record of a 911 emergency call. In this regard, as a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (k) of the Law.
Relevant is the first ground for denial, §87(2)(a), which pertains to records that “are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute.” One such statute is §308(4) of the County Law, which states that:
"Records, in whatever form they may be kept, of calls made to a municipality's E911 system shall not be made available to or obtained by any entity or person, other than that municipality's public safety agency, another government agency or body, or a private entity or a person providing medical, ambulance or other emergency services, and shall not be utilized for any commercial purpose other than the provision of emergency services."
Based on the foregoing, "records...of calls" means either a recording or a transcript of the communication between a person making a 911 emergency call, and the employee of the municipality who receives the call. Records of that nature are, in my view, exempted from disclosure by statute.
You suggested that an agency that maintains a record of a 911 could “block out” the name and disclose the remainder of the record. If the Freedom of Information Law governed rights of access, I would agree that a name or identifying details could be deleted, i.e., to protect the privacy or safety of the person who made the call, and that remainder of such a record might be accessible. However, in this instance, because a separate statute specifies that particular records “shall not be made available”, those records are exempted from disclosure to the public in their entirety, and the Court of Appeals, the state’s court, has so held in an analogous situation [see Short v. Board of Managers, 57 NY2d 399 (1982)].
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Records Access Officer, Office of the Cortland County Sheriff