Public Records Access and Data Security in Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Open Records Act is a law that was enacted in 1988 to provide citizens with the right to request access to the public records of the government agencies and institutions that service said citizens within the state. To this point, the law sets forth the requirements that government agencies and institutions within Oklahoma must abide by as it concerns ensuring that members of the public can access, inspect, and copy their public records, as well the public records that citizens of Oklahoma are not permitted to access. Furthermore, the law also establishes the punishments that state agencies stand to face should they be found to be in violation of the law.
How is a public body defined under the law?
The Oklahoma Open Records Act defines a public body as “any office, department, board, bureau, commission, agency, trusteeship, authority, council, committee, trust or any entity created by a trust, county, city, village, town, township, district, school district, fair board, court, executive office, advisory group, task force, study group, or any subdivision thereof, supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expenditure of public funds or administering or operating public property, and all committees, or subcommittees thereof.” Conversely, the term public body does not include “judges, justices, the Council on Judicial Complaints, the Legislature, or legislators.”
What are the duties of public bodies under the law?
The duties that public bodies have under the various sections of the Oklahoma Open Records Act include the following:
- Public bodies have a duty to redact certain forms of personally identifiable information from their public records, such as social security numbers, prior to disclosing said records to a requestor.
- Public bodies are responsible for designating an employee who will be responsible for facilitating the access, copy, inspection, and disclosure of their public records. Moreover, public bodies must ensure that at least one employee within their agency is available at all times to release records to the general public, during regular business hours.
- Public bodies are prohibited from charging a requestor more than $.25 per page to copy the public records of said bodies.
- Public bodies are responsible for providing requestors with the information that is necessary to adequately access the public records of said bodies.
- Public bodies are prohibited from dictating the manner in which their public records will be used once said records have been provided to a requestor.
- Public bodies are prohibited from requiring a requestor to provide said bodies with a line of reasoning in regards to their request to access the public records of a particular public body.
What public records are exempt from disclosure under the law?
As all laws that grant American citizens the right to request access to the public records of their state government institutions will invariably contain certain exemptions, the Oklahoma Open Records Act likewise sets forth certain public records that are exempt from dissemination to the general public. Subsequently, some examples of these exemptions include:
- Tollbooth records.
- Attorney-client privilege records.
- Educational records.
- Medical records.
- Library and museum donor information.
- Crop and livestock reports provided by farmers.
- Public utility records.
- Litigation and investigation files.
- Personally identifiable information.
- Information that could create an unfair business advantage.
- Juvenile records.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
In terms of penalties that can be imposed against public bodies and government agencies that fail to adhere to the provisions of the law, individuals and organizations that are found to be in violation of the law are subject to a wide range of penalties. Most notably, any public official within Oklahoma that fails to comply with the law is subject to a misdemeanor, a fine of up to $500, and a term of imprisonment of up to one year. What’s more, Oklahoma citizens that have their rights violated under the law can also seek justice from the state court system in the form of a civil suit, injunctive relief, as well as reasonable attorney fees in the event that the alleged violation is proven to be true.
As the Oklahoma Constitution affords residents of the state the right to be fully informed about the functions of their respective government institutions and officials, the Oklahoma Open Records Act stands as one of the primary legal means by which these residents can exercise this right. As such, citizens within Oklahoma can use the law to take advantage of their political power, as their tax dollars are the foundation of all state and government-funded activities and operations. In this way, these citizens can do everything they possibly can to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions.