Public Access Opinion 17-011

Disclosure of 9-1-1 Call Recordings

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 17-011
Date: Monday, August 14, 2017

A County Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff’s Office) violated FOIA by improperly denying the release of two 9-1-1 recordings in response to two FOIA requests. On April 27, 2017, a reporter requested copies of two 9-1-1 recordings made from the home of a child who had been reported missing and was later found dead. The Sheriff’s Office promptly denied both requests in their entireties, asserting that the voice recordings constituted “biometric identifiers,” which are included in Section 2(c-5)’s definition of “private information” exempt from disclosure. The Sheriff’s Office also denied disclosure of the second 9-1-1 recording based on Section 7(1)(d)(vii), asserting that disclosure could impede the ongoing investigation of the child’s death.

On review, the PAC found that the voice recordings did not constitute “biometric identifiers” because that term is commonly understood to refer to the measurement and analysis of a unique physical or behavioral characteristic that identifies a person. Since the voice recordings did not contain a measurement or analysis of the speaker’s voice (or a “voiceprint”), they were not “biometric identifiers” and thus their disclosure could not be denied under Section 2(c-5).

Regarding the Sheriff’s Office’s Section 7(1)(d)(vii) assertion, the PAC found that the existence of a criminal investigation by itself does not render records relating to the investigation exempt from disclosure. To successfully make this assertion, the Sheriff’s Office would have had to provide a factual basis and “clear and convincing evidence” demonstrating how the disclosure of the 9-1-1 recording would obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation.

The PAC ordered the Sheriff’s Office to immediately disclose the 9-1-1 recordings to the reporter.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.