The Indiana Access to Public Records Act, Data Privacy
The Indiana Access to Public Records Act or APRA for short is an open records and data protection law that was enacted in 1983. Indiana’s APRA has been amended several times since being passed initially in 1983, with the most recent amendment occurring in 2009, when the provisions of the law were changed to substantially increase the punishments that government agencies could face should they be found to be in violation of the law. With all this being said, Indiana’s ARPA establishes the legal guidelines for accessing the public records of public bodies and government agencies within the state.
How are public records defined under Indiana’s APRA?
Indiana’s APRA defines a public record as “means any writing, paper, report, study, map, photograph, book, card, tape recording, or other material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency and which is generated on paper, paper substitutes, photographic media, chemically-based media, magnetic or machine-readable media, electronically stored data, or any other material, regardless of form or characteristics.” What’s more, the Indiana Court of Appeals has also ruled that “materials created for or on behalf of a public agency” also constitute public records under the state’s APRA.
What are the duties of public agencies under Indiana’s APRA?
The APRA mandates that state agencies within Indiana take the steps necessary to facilitate the access, inspection, and copying of their public records to members of the general public. To this point, the responsibilities that state agencies have under the law include the following:
- State agencies are required to respond to all requests for access to their public records within 24 hours, either in person or by phone. Moreover, state agencies must also respond to requests that have been made via postal mail, emails, or fax machines within 7 calendar days of receipt.
- State agencies have a duty to produce their public records in conjunction with a request to access said records within a reasonable amount of time.
- In instances where a state agency will need an extension of time with respect to the facilitation of a public record request, the agency must provide the requestor with groups of records in the interim as said records become available.
- State agencies must ensure that all people have the right to request access to their public records, during regular business hours.
- Generally speaking, state agencies are prohibited from charging a requestor more than 10 cents per page to copy their public records. However, there are some exceptions to this provision, such as a $5 fee for a motor vehicle accident report, among others.
When can a state agency deny a public record request under the APRA?
As it concerns the denial of access to public records and information, the provisions of Indiana’s APRA require a state agency to provide a requestor with specific reasoning, and citation to authority, as well as the title, position, or person responsible for the decision prior to denying a request to access the agency’s public records. Additionally, all denials to access public records must be made in writing, and state agencies also bear the responsibility of proving that the particular records that have been requested are exempt from disclosure under the APRA, or other applicable federal or state legislation. To this end, there are a variety of public records that are exempt from dissemination under the APRA. Some examples of these exemptions include:
- Library or archival records.
- The identity of a donor gift made to a public agency.
- Risk planning documents.
- Domestic preparedness strategies.
- The location of surface water intakes and community drinking wells.
- Needs, threat, and intelligence assessments.
- The emergency contact information of emergency first responders and volunteers.
What are the penalties for violating Indiana’s APRA?
In accordance with amendments that were made to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act in 2009, state agencies that fail to abide by the law are subject to a civil penalty of up to $500, as well as attorney fees, costs, and reasonable expenses of litigation. Subsequently, some examples of actions that are considered to be violations of Indiana’s APRA include:
- Failing to respond to a requestor within a prescribed time.
- Denying access to records without indicating the appropriate statutory authority.
- Requiring a requestor to provide a specific line of reasoning when they are looking to access an agency’s public records.
- Failing to communicate with a requestor when their request is voluminous.
- Improperly requiring a subpoena from a requestor.
- Assuming that certain public records are confidential or proprietary without proper legal authority.
The Indiana Access to Public Records Act serves as one of the primary means by which citizens of the state can gain a better understanding of the functions and operations of the various public and government agencies that serve the public. Despite the exemptions that are set forth in the law, the public records that citizens of Indiana are permitted to inspect, review, and copy enable them to hold their elected officials accountable, as they have been put in their position by members of the general public.