When the dramatic recording of the 911 call leading to Demi Moore’s Monday night hospitalization was released to the public today, it begged the question: Does Moore have the legal right to have that call kept private?
Not according to officials. “911 calls are public information,” says Tina Haro, the public information officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Community Liaison Office, which reviewed the tape for release alongside the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Though the LAFD was legally required to redact personal and medical information about Moore (her history, treatment Monday, phone number, gate code), when the media made a request for that public information, LAFD was legally required to release it. “Everything we [released] is public record, so we have to give it to [journalists] according to the California Public Records Act,” Haro says.
The only exception, Haro says, would be if there were a pending criminal trial or legal issue. Then the courts (as opposed to Moore’s lawyers) could embargo the release. (As of press time, Haro was unaware of any attempt by Moore’s legal team to halt or follow up on the tape’s release, and Moore’s reps would not specifically comment on the 911 call or its release today.)
Still, legality aside, the other question being asked in the wake of Moore’s call going public is whether it’s morally sound to share a recording of a 911 emergency phone call on the Web for millions to see and hear.
Los Angeles area privacy attorney Jeffrey S. Kravitz says that Moore’s celebrity status means she “is a public figure, so she has very limited protection.”
But Tony Stuart, the LA attorney who argued for privacy rights in the landmark Shulman v. Group W Productions, believes Moore should have a right to privacy because of the nature that 911 call. “It seems to me that a call for medical assistance ought to just be private, period,” he says.
Stuart also acknowledges the possible snowball effect of releasing a 911 call: “How can a person feel free to give important info over the telephone to a 911 dispatch if they’re worried that something they say might be broadcast to the public?” Agreed Kravitz, “You could make a good argument that it is in the public’s interest not to reveal these [tapes], because, otherwise, people would not call , to their detriment.”
Stuart argues that the courts should make it clear to average citizens that authorities will not “chill their ability to freely give important information — which may mean the difference between life and death — because the public has some prurient interest in what Demi Moore has to say.”
But unless the public’s interest in that type of private information wanes considerably, the celebrities themselves should expect to see their 911 calls continue to release to the media.
Says Stuart, “There’s always this push-pull with the media and with privacy, especially a celebrity’s privacy.”