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Should California Enact Exemptions to Its Public Records Act?

California Privacy Bill

The California Public Records Act requires that certain public records be made available for examination upon the request of the public. This Act is important as it helps to keep the government accountable to the people who it represents and to ensure that residents have fair access to information that affects them. Similar federal laws also guarantee access to government records on the federal level. Recent events that transpired in Los Angeles, California, however, have led some lawmakers to propose exemptions to the Act.

“In cases in which an individual’s privacy is compromised while receiving emergency services, his or her personal information should not become public,” said California personal injury attorney James Ballidis. 

The issue of privacy rights versus the right of the public to government records has recently come into the headlines as the result of a 911 call made from the home of actress Demi Moore. The caller in the recorded 911 call apparently indicated that Demi Moore had smoked something and that she was having convulsions as a result.   The news reported that the voice of the caller was increasingly panicked over the course of the telephone call, although by the end of the interaction, Moore's convulsions had apparently subsided and the person on the line was becoming calmer. Moore was later taken to the hospital and, upon her release, reports indicated that she had seizures induced by inhalation of nitrous oxide. 

The release to the public of the identifying information on the call that allowed it to be traced back to Demi Moore prompted California Assemblywoman Norma Torres to put forth AB 1275 for consideration. AB 1275, also known as the California Public Records Act, would establish an exemption to California's public records rules. AB 1275 stipulates that state and local agencies would be prohibited from releasing any portion of a 911 call that contains medical or personal identifying information. 

Privacy Rights in California

Although AB 1275 was originally proposed following Moore's call in January of 2011, the Bill has still not been signed into law as of March 2012.  The current law in California, therefore, still permits people's personal identifying information in 911 calls to become public record.  Although law enforcement is already permitted to withhold personal details, this means that the privacy rights of California residents are not sufficiently protected and anyone's personal and identifying information given to a 911 operator may be available for all to see. 

Given the often-personal nature of 911 calls, exemptions should be made to the Public Records Act to ensure the privacy of patients prior to their entry into the healthcare system, where laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, already exist to protect their information. 

“911 calls are made in some of the most vulnerable of times,” said California personal injury attorney James Ballidis, “and the information revealed should remain private rather than public.” 

Additional information on this and other subjects, including personal injury, business, and contract law, is available to the public free of charge through our office's Preferred Friends and Clients Program.

To request a free book or article, or to speak with a California personal injury attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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