Proposed bill would limit 911 audio access

March 2nd, 2010 by — A bill banning public access to recordings of 911 calls was reviewed by a state Assembly committee Thursday.

The bill was introduced Dec. 11, 2009, by both state Reps. Amy Vruwink, D-Milladore and Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee.

It was co-sponsored by state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and referred to the Committee on Personal Privacy.

Under the bill, a requester would maintain the right to inspect and copy a transcript of a 911 call but not have the right to inspect or copy an audio recording.

The legislation was motivated by the Brittany Zimmermann case, which involves a 21-year-old UW-Madison student who was killed in her apartment in April 2008.
Opponents of the bill says it violates freedom of information laws.

“There are many occasions where those tapes provide important information about how well the system responds, about what the facts are in a given case, and it’s clearly in the public’s interest to have continued access to these recordings,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, called the bill “legislation by anecdote.”

“We shouldn’t enter into legislation to restrict public records based on one incident no matter how painful,” Fox said.

A spokesperson from Vruwink’s office said there is a misperception that this bill would totally restrict access.

The spokesperson said that people would be able to to review the transcripts of the tapes, but not the audio.

Fox said he supports the “balancing test,” which allows custodians of public records to request that they be restricted, and for judges to decide whether records are appropriate for public disclosure.

Fox said there are “cases where there is a justified reason for the public to have access to the actual tape recording to determine if the 911 center is operating appropriately for the benefit of all the citizens.”

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