May 12, 1994
Mr. Martin A. Farrell
Records Access Officer
County of Onondaga
Office of the County Executive
John H. Mulroy Civic Center
421 Montgomery Street - 14th Floor
Syracuse, NY 13202
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to
issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is
based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Farrell:
I have received your recent letter in which you requested an
advisory opinion concerning Onondaga County's "ability to provide
transcripts of telephone calls made to [y]our E-911 Center."
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, as a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law
pertains to all agency records and 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 (i) of the Law.
Second, relevant in the context of your question is the
initial ground for denial, §87(2)(a), which relates to records that
"are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal
statute." One such statute is §308(5) of the County Law, which
"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."
In many instances, although an agency may withhold records, it
has discretionary authority to disclose the records [see e.g.,
Capital Newspapers v. Burns, 67 NY 2d 562, 567 (1986)]. In this
instance, however, I believe that the language of §308(5) is
restrictive, for it specifies that the records of calls made to an
E-911 system "shall not be made available", except in the
circumstances provided later in that provision. Therefore, unless
one of those circumstances authorizing disclosure is present, the
County, in my view, would be prohibited from disclosing the records
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman