A public record is any state or local record that relates to the conduct of government or the performance of a governmental function, and is prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local government agency. Public records can come in a variety of forms, such as written documents, recordings, pictures, electronic disks, emails and texts, and social media posts.
The Public Records Act (PRA) requires that all records maintained by state and local agencies be made available to all members of the public, with very narrow statutory exemptions.
People have used public records for a variety of reasons, including accessing:
You are entitled access to public records (as well as copies of records) under reasonable conditions, and requests should be as specific as possible. Although accessing a public record is FREE, an agency may charge a fee to reproduce the record you've requested. You can submit a request for public records in person, over the phone, and by mail, email, or fax.
Agencies are required to respond to public records requests promptly. Within 5 business days of receiving the request, agencies must either provide the record, acknowledge the request (and offer a reasonable estimate of how long it will take to provide the record), or deny the request in writing. If an agency denies your request, you may ask the agency to conduct an internal review of the reasoning within two business days of receiving the written denial.
Most records maintained by the state and local agencies are available to the public unless a law specifically exempts them. Reasons why a record may be exempt can vary, but usually factors down to the protection of three entities:
1) the privacy rights or other individuals,
2) the investigative functions of law enforcement and other agencies with investigative responsibilities, and
3) the legitimate business interests of other citizens.
However, just because part of a record is exempt does not mean the entire record can be withheld. In this situation, the agency is obligated to black out or remove the information which it believes to be exempt and disclose the non-exempt portions. Furthermore, if you are denied access to a public record, the agency must identify the specific exemption or law which it believes justifies the denial as well as explain how that exemption or law applies to your request.
It is also important to note that agencies can only provide access to existing records. They are not required to collect information or organize data to create a new record. Therefore, the more precise you are about the record you want, the more responsive an agency can be.
If you would like more information regarding your rights under this law, please contact Darryl Parker of the Civil Rights Justice Center or visit our website.
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com
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