Must County Provide Cellular Phone Billing Records to a Newspapers Upon Request ?
In PG Publishing Company v. County of Washington, 162 Pa. Commw. 196, 638 A.2d 422 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994), two newspapers requested that the county provide its itemized cellular phone billing records.
The county refused the newspapers' request and the newspapers filed a statutory appeal with the trial court. the trial court issued an order granting access to the county's cellular phone records, with certain exceptions.
Specifically, the trial court allowed the District Attorney and the Drug Task force to redact numbers relating to "active criminal investigations".
However, the trial court did not allow the Sheriff or Coroner to redact any numbers.
Thereafter, the newspapers again requested copies of the cellular phone records.
However, the county controller refused to provide these records and the county instead filed an appeal with this Court.
The Court held that:
It is axiomatic that all bills or statements which contain an itemization regarding how the total amount is arrived at is an integral part of the final bill without which payment would probably not be made.
Therefore, we hold that the trial court did not err in holding that the entire bill, including itemization, constituted a "public record" under the Act. Id. at 426.
Having determined that the cellular phone records were a "public record", we proceeded to determine whether the cellular telephone bills fell under one of the public record exceptions in the Act.
These exceptions are located in the definition of "public record", which is cited above.
In considering whether privacy concerns justified denying the public access to the cellular phone records, the Court stated that:
in a recent decision, this Court reasoned that, although the legislature failed to establish affirmatively a personal privacy right under the Pennsylvania Constitution, it could be inferred that such a right existed in light of the cumulating precedent. Times Publishing Co. v. Michel, 159 Pa. Commw. 398, 633 A.2d 1233 (1993).
Times Publishing specifically addressed the issue of whether portions of firearm application records that disclose applicants' addresses, telephone and social security numbers should be withheld because the information may compromise personal security.
The Court held that in analyzing the personal security exception to the Act, we must apply "a balancing test, weighing privacy interests and the extent to which they may be invaded, against the public benefit which would result from disclosure." 633 A.2d at 1239.
The type of privacy interest envisioned in Times Publishing suggests a unique hybrid case, because the privacy right is totally married and even arguably intertwined with personal security interests due to the subject matter of inquiry--the application of a permit for a deadly weapon.
Finally, in Morning Call, Inc. v. Lower Saucon Township, 156 Pa. Commw. 397, 627 A.2d 297 (1993), the Court held that a settlement agreement entered into between a public agency and a private individual constituted a public record, regardless of the fact that the parties had agreed to keep the terms of the agreement confidential.
Basically, Morning Call dictates that if public money is spent then the Act entitles the public to know where this money goes.
The Court held that Morning Call applies here and, therefore, we hold that the trial court did not err in concluding that concerns over the invasion of privacy do not outweigh the purpose of the Act. d. at 429.