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Statutory Citation: G. L. c. 4, § 7(26)

Definition of Public Record

Public records are defined as all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency. 1

Exemptions to Public Records

Exempt: Information that would invade individual privacy; trade secrets; public policy development memos; and investigative materials. The Office of the Governor is also exempt. 2

Who Can Make The Request?


Response Timeframe

10 days. 3

Information on Fees

A common tactic among agencies that can’t reject a request outright is to claim that processing the request would generate thousands of dollars in fees, in effect holding the documents “hostage.” Most commonly, you see this with emails, with agencies arguing that they needed to print them out and hand-redact them to ensure the integrity of the document. While these can be appealed with some success, it does help to keep requests as narrow as possible. Agencies may not charge for the first four (4) hours of employee time spent in responding to a records request; for municipalities, it is the first two (2) hours. After this the agency and municipality may charge a maximum rate of $25 per hour. Municipalities, but not agencies, may exceed this rate if the request is for a commercial purpose or the requested fee reflects the actual cost to comply. If a records officer fails to respond within 10 business days, no fee may be charged. 4

Enforcement Mechanisms

The Supervisor of Public Records is the primary enforcer of the public records law within the state. Appeals should be sent to his office. From there, the SPR can order the custodian to comply; further refusal to do so may result in referral to the Attorney General or the appropriate district attorney, although this is rare. 5

Attorney Fees

The Superior Court may award attorney fees, except under four specific circumstances: (i) the supervisor of public records finds the agency or municipality did no violate the law. (ii) the agency or municipality based their denial on a published decision of the appellate court or attorney general. (iii) the request was intended to harass or intimidate. (iv) the request was not in the public interest or was made for a commercial purpose unrelated to disseminating information to the public. 6

Do You Want to Make a Public Records Request?

The public records process begins with a public records request. Our guide outlines best practices for drafting well-defined requests for public information.

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Questions? Contact the Goldwater Institute.

If you have any questions regarding this guide or your rights to public information, please contact the Goldwater Institute at to determine if the Institute can help you access information necessary to hold your government accountable.

Goldwater Institute