Journalist's Guide

information, confidential commercial information, and trade secrets. In some cases, these protections may be waived.

Other records may be withheld if the agency decides disclosure of those records would be “contrary to the public interest.” Examples of records subject to discretionary disclosure include investigatory records, information related to academic, licensing, employment examinations, and documents of a pre-decisional and deliberative nature. In some instances, the PIA grants a “person in interest” a right to access certain records that are otherwise not available to the public under the PIA. A person in interest is usually the person who is the subject of the record. There is no central agency that is responsible for PIA requests. You should contact the agency that has the type of record you are seeking. If you are uncertain about what agency would have the record, you might review the Attorney General’s website for a list of the PIA representatives for various state, county, and municipal bodies, which is available online at You can also check agency websites, the government’s website, or contact your local library where the reference staff might be able to help identify the agency that has the particular type of record. As for to whom to direct your request, check the agency’s website. It should have the relevant contact information. Although there is no particular form to use to make a request, some agencies have created request forms to help them respond to PIA requests. Often, there are methods for submitting a request through the internet. In some cases, a telephone call to the appropriate person in a government agency may satisfy your request for a document. In other cases, you will need to submit your request in writing. Address your request to the individual the agency identifies as its PIA contact. If you do not know who that is, address your request to the agency’s public information officer or to the head of the agency. It is important you specifically describe the records you seek so the agency can research your request. Sometimes discussions with agency personnel will clarify your request and help the agency find the records you are seeking. In many instances, an agency will be able to respond to your request immediately. In fact, for some frequently requested records, an agency may already have records available on its website. For example, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation makes property assessment information publicly available through its website. Otherwise, an agency normally is expected to comply with a PIA request promptly and, in any case, within 30 days. There may be instances where an agency needs additional time to locate and review the requested records. The PIA allows an agency to charge a “reasonable fee” for copies of public records. An agency may also charge a reasonable fee for searching for a public record – a charge that may include the time required for locating and reviewing the record. The first two hours of search time are free, but an extensive search may prove time-consuming and therefore expensive. Thus, it is in both your interest and the agency’s interest to ensure a PIA request clearly and accurately


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