The Island Packet of Hilton Head reports that the attorney general's office released its opinion after reviewing a law passed five years ago.
Beaufort County asked for the opinion after the Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette were denied a request for data on the response time of Beaufort County ambulances.
The opinion said the 2004 law "protects all data, including response times, trip numbers, requests for helicopter transport by numbers and dates, and other general raw data compiled from day to day operations of our emergency services department."
The protection is needed to prevent the identification of paramedics or patients, according to the opinion.
The opinion relied on a flawed law because the statue prevents any public scrutiny of ambulance providers, said Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association
"It's an effort to shield ambulance services from oversight by the public the same public that pays for it," Bender said Friday.
Beaufort County Administrator Gary Kubic said he was pleased with the ruling because it is unnecessary to release the information when the county hires people to make sure its ambulance service is providing adequate care.
Bender said the public should be allowed to judge that for themselves.
"I would not take delight in keeping the public in the dark about what one of my agencies is doing," Bender said. "If their performance was adequate, they'd want to share it. The only reason for secrecy is a concern their performance is not adequate."
Sen. Harvey Peeler sponsored the law and said he did not intend for it to be used to keep ambulance response times secret. The Gaffney Republican said he will write a bill for next session to correct the problem.