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County ordered to release cellular telephone records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NEVADA         Freedom of Information         Sep 12, 2000    

County ordered to release cellular telephone records

  • The Las Vegas Review-Journal won its fight for access to the cell phone records of county commissioners.

A Las Vegas newspaper’s investigation of government waste was temporarily put on hold when county officials refused to release cellular phone records citing the privacy interests of the recipients of the phone calls. However, in a case of first impression, the Nevada Supreme Court held no privacy interest existed and the officials could not claim a privilege to prevent disclosure.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal requested in February 1998 copies of phone calls placed by five officials with publicly owned cellular phones during a two-year period. In response, Dale Askew, the Clark County manager, offered billing records with the last four digits of every number redacted.

In its ruling, the state supreme court stated the telephone numbers must be completely disclosed unless the county could demonstrate releasing the numbers would significantly invade the privacy of the person called. The court recognized the possibility that releasing such telephone numbers might constitute an invasion of privacy under different circumstances. However, it did not elaborate on those circumstances.

The county argued the records were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The claim of a deliberative process privilege protects from disclosure information that is part of the decision-making process in the executive branch. The privilege generally covers advice given to a governmental official or an official’s opinions prior to making a civic decision. The privilege does not protect purely factual material and the court went on to find the names of persons with whom government officials have consulted are not protected from disclosure under a deliberative process privilege.

As a result, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a story on Sept. 1 detailing the cell phone use by Clark County commissioners at the tune of more than $7,000 in the first six months of this year. One commissioner, Erin Kenny, accounted for $2,514 of the total.

(DR Partners v. The Board of County Commissioners of Clark County; Media Counsel: Campbell & Williams, Las Vegas) CC

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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