Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- February 2006
Can the Public Obtain Copies of "9-1-1" Audio Tapes?
Yes - audio tapes are just a different form of public record.
Iowans dial "9-1-1" every day to report a crime or accident or call for medical assistance. Are audio tapes of 911 calls public records? Public records do include "all records, documents, tape, or other information, stored or preserved in any medium." Iowa Code sec. 22.1(3). What if a 911 call includes confidential information? Can an audio tape be edited prior to release?
Generally, audio tapes of 911 calls are public records and must be released by the lawful custodian, unless a specific provision of law makes all or part of the tape confidential. The following guidelines apply to release of audio tapes, including those which contain confidential information:
- Open Records: Audio tapes of 911 calls which do not include confidential information are open records and must be released on request. Iowa Code sec. 22.1(3).
- Confidential Information: Most audio tapes of 911 calls about a crime or incident should be treated as peace officers' investigative reports that may be kept confidential; however, the "date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances" must be released, except under unusual circumstances (see below.)
- Unusual Circumstances: When release of information in a 911 audio tape "would plainly and seriously jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger" to a person's safety, the "date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances" about a crime or incident should be kept confidential. Iowa Code sec. 22.7(5).
Remember: Audio tapes of 911 calls are just a different form of public record and must be released, unless confidential under law. When a crime or incident is involved, the public has a right to certain information in a 911 tape -- except under unusual circumstances.
Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office -- toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)
"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins provide information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws -- our "Sunshine Laws." The bulletins are a resource for public officials and citizens. Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.
Iowa Attorney General's Office: Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.