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Definition of Public Record

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Law defines records as, “information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business or activity of the agency.” 1

Exemptions to Public Records

Personnel records are exempted, including public employees’ private information, and donor information. Trade secrets, work files of public servants and professors of higher learning, records that would compromise the security of a computer network, records that could damage law enforcement’s efforts to protect national security and the public, and records that would result in loss of funding for the agency or state are all considered exempt. 2

Who Can Make The Request?

Any United States citizen. 3

Response Timeframe

5 days. 4

Information on Fees

Fees in Pennsylvania are fairly limited. Agencies can charge for actual cost of duplicating records, but may not charge for review of documents or searching for them. The only other fee allowed to be charged is if the agency incurs a cost in processing the request, i.e. if they have to put it on a CD or if they have to do an extensive server search which involves outside professionals. 5

Enforcement Mechanisms

The Office of Open Records can issue advisory opinions for court cases involving public records. For “bad faith” offenses a court can issue a civil penalty of a fine of $1,500. If an agency does not comply with a court order and turn over records they are subject to a fine of $500 per day that the records have not been turned over. 6

Attorney Fees

Yes, you can win attorney’s fees. 7

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