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Copyright © 2010 Zegarelli Law Group. All rights reserved.
Written by Gregg R. Zegarelli, Esq.

Following is a brief breakdown.  The law is available at https://www.dced.state.pa.us/public/oor/pa_righttoknowlaw.pdf
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Applicable Law





102 Definition
(Public Record)

Public record.” A record, including a financial record, of a Commonwealth or local agency that: (1) is not exempt under section 708; (2) is not exempt from being disclosed under any other Federal or State law or regulation or judicial order or decree; or (3) is not protected by a privilege.

Note that the definition does not deal in traditional concepts of "databases" or particular documents.  The definition is reduced to "Information, regardless of physical form received in connection with business activity of an agency."

102 Definition

Record.” 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. The term includes a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound recording, information stored or maintained electronically and a dataprocessed or image- processed document.

Presumptions favor citizens and disclosure.


Presumption.  (a) General rule. — A record in the possession of a Commonwealth agency or local agency shall be presumed to be a public record. [See Rule 708 below, Burden of Proof on Agency to claim an Exemption.]

There are heavy duties on the government to track Right to Know requests.

Open Records Officers

 (b) Functions.  (1) The open-records officer shall receive requests submitted to the agency under this act, direct requests to other appropriate persons within the agency or to appropriate persons in another agency, track the agency’s progress in responding to requests and issue interim and final responses under this act. (2) Upon receiving a request for a public record, legislative record or financial record, the open-records officer shall do all of the following: (i) Note the date of receipt on the written request. (ii) Compute the day on which the five-day period under section 901 will expire and make a notation of that date on the written request. (iii) Maintain an electronic or paper copy of a written request, including all documents submitted with the request until the request has been fulfilled. If the request is denied, the written request shall be maintained for 30 days or, if an appeal is filed, until a final determination is issued under section 1101(b) or the appeal is deemed denied.

Even for multiple requests, the agency to whom a request is made must claim the rule and show a heavy burden of proof of an "unreasonable burden."  Even so, the request is then a denial under Sect. 903.




Note that the law contemplates electronic access in (b)(2). 



The agency is deemed to be in possession of parties with whom it contracts under section (d)(1).


(a) Disruptive requests. — (1) An agency may deny a requester access to a record if the requester has made repeated requests for that same record and the repeated requests have placed an unreasonable burden on the agency.

(b) Disaster or potential damage. —

(1) An agency may deny a requester access:

(i) when timely access is not possible due to fire, flood or other disaster; or (ii) to historical, ancient or rare documents, records, archives and manuscripts when access may, in the professional judgment of the curator or custodian of records, cause physical damage or irreparable harm to the record.

(2) To the extent possible, the contents of a record under this subsection shall be made accessible to a requester even when the record is physically unavailable. 

(d) Agency possession. —

(1) A public record that is not in the possession of an agency but is in the possession of a party with whom the agency has contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the agency, and which directly relates to the governmental function and is not exempt under this act, shall be considered a public record of the agency for purposes of this act.

(2) Nothing in this act shall be construed to require access to any other record of the party in possession of the public record.

(3) A request for a public record in possession of a party other than the agency shall be submitted to the open records officer of the agency. Upon a determination that the record is subject to access under this act, the open records officer shall assess the duplication fee established under section 1307(b) and upon collection shall remit the fee to the party in possession of the record if the party duplicated the record.

The information must be made available in various forms.


(a) General rule. — Unless otherwise provided by law, a public record, legislative record or financial record shall be accessible for inspection and duplication in accordance with this act. A record being provided to a requester shall be provided in the medium requested if it exists in that medium; otherwise, it shall be provided in the medium in which it exists. Public records, legislative records or financial records shall be available for access during the regular business hours of an agency.

Electronic access is contemplated by the Act.

Electronic   Access

(a) General rule. — In addition to the requirements of section 701, an agency may make its records available through any publicly accessible electronic means.

(b) Response. — (1) In addition to the requirements of section 701, an agency may respond to a request by notifying the requester that the record is available through publicly accessible electronic means or that the agency will provide access to inspect the record electronically.

(2) If the requester is unwilling or unable to access the record electronically, the requester may, within 30 days following receipt of the agency notification, submit a written request to the agency to have the record converted to paper. The agency shall provide access to the record in printed form within five days of the receipt of the written request for conversion to paper.

If only part of a record is exempt under 708(b), then the agency redacts, but cannot make a blanket denial.


If an agency determines that a public record, legislative record or financial record contains information which is subject to access as well as information which is not subject to access, the agency’s response shall grant access to the information which is subject to access and deny access to the information which is not subject to access. If the information which is not subject to access is an integral part of the public record, legislative record or financial record and cannot be separated, the agency shall redact from the record the information which is not subject to access, and the response shall grant access to the information which is subject to access. The agency may not deny access to the record if the information which is not subject to access is able to be redacted. Information which an agency redacts in accordance with this subsection shall be deemed a denial under Chapter 9. [Emphasis added]

The agency has the burden to prove any exception.  Exceptions are too detailed to state here and are very specific.


Exceptions for public records.  (a) Burden of proof. — (1) The burden of proving that a record of a Commonwealth agency or local agency is exempt from public access shall be on the Commonwealth agency or local agency receiving a request by a preponderance of the evidence.   

Response within five (5) days.

901 Response General Rule

Upon receipt of a written request for access to a record, an agency shall make a good faith effort to determine if the record requested is a public record, legislative record or financial record and whether the agency has possession, custody or control of the identified record, and to respond as promptly as possible under the circumstances existing at the time of the request. All applicable fees shall be paid in order to receive access to the record requested. The time for response shall not exceed five business days from the date the written request is received by the open-records officer for an agency. If the agency fails to send the response within five business days of receipt of the written request for access, the written request for access shall be deemed denied.

The agency must specifically identify the reason for a denial.


If an agency’s response is a denial of a written request for access, whether in whole or in part, the denial shall be issued in writing and shall include: (1) A description of the record requested. (2) The specific reasons for the denial, including a citation of supporting legal authority.

(3) The typed or printed name, title, business address, business telephone number and signature of the open-records officer on whose authority the denial is issued. (4) Date of the response. (5) The procedure to appeal the denial of access under this act.


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