Open Records FAQ

What are public records?

Public records are any information that are either made or received by public agencies in carrying on public business. Public records include any written communication or other information, whether in paper, electronic, or other physical form, received by a quorum or majority of a public body in furtherance of its official function, whether at a meeting or outside a meeting.

Who may inspect or get copies of public records?

Every person has a right to inspect and get copies of public records while the public record is in the physical possession of the public body.  No fee can be charged to inspect records.  A fee may be charged if you request a copy.

To whom should a request for public records be directed?

The Right-to-Know Law does not describe any specific procedure that a person must follow in requesting to inspect public records. Normally, a request to any employee in the public office is sufficient to get access to records in that office. However, it is the custodian of public records who is specifically required to allow those records to be inspected. The public official in charge of an office is usually designated to be the custodian of records for that office.

Do requests for records have to be made in writing?

No. They can be made in writing, verbally, email, or by other electronic means.  You should maintain a personal copy of your request, preferably in writing, to insure you have a record of your request.

Are there any limitations on how many records may be requested?

No.  However, your request must ‘reasonably describe’ the records you are requesting. You should avoid requests which are vague or ambiguous.  Be as specific as possible while not excluding any records you may want.

How long does the public body have to retain their public records?

It depends on the type of record it is.  Records must be retained for a period of time as mandated by RSA 33-A:3a.  Electronic records must be retained for the same periods as paper.  All settlement agreements for claims or lawsuits must be retained for 10 years.

How long does the public body have to respond to a request for public records?

The custodian must provide a response to your request within 5 business days.  If the records are immediately available, they should be provided immediately.

Can the public body deny your records request?

Yes, if the records are exempted from disclosure.   See RSA 91-A:5 for a list of exemptions. The public body bears the burden to prove that an exemption applies.  If part of the record is exempt, the part that is not exempt must be made available for inspection.  The exempt portion may be redacted.  Also, the public body is not required to create any records or compile data.

When are public records available for inspection or copying?

Inspection of records is done at the public body office during regular business hours. During the inspection, you may make a copy of the record by any method.

May citizens request copies of public records?

Yes.

May an agency charge fees for copies of public records?

Yes.  Unless otherwise provided by law, the public agency may only charge for the actual cost to the public agency of making the copy.

How can I avoid paying fees for copies of public records?

Ask to inspect the records only.  No fee can be charged to only inspect the records.  After you inspect the records you can make a copy of the record using your own device (i.e. camera).

Can I request an electronic copy of an electronic document?

Yes.  You may choose to get copies in the record’s original format.  For example, if the original document is an electronic spreadsheet, you can request an electronic copy of the spreadsheet.

What about inspecting or getting copies of records that contain both public and confidential information?

Some records contain both public and confidential information. Public agencies may not refuse to permit inspection or to provide copies because public records contain some confidential information. Agencies must permit inspection and provide copies of the public, non-confidential parts of these records.  The confidential information would be redacted.

What are the remedies available to me if an agency refuses to release or disclose a public record or charges more than the actual cost to produce the copies?

Any person who is denied access to public records may bring a civil action in court against the public agency or official who is denying access or overcharging for copies. The court may order the agency to permit inspection or provide copies at actual cost if the court determines that the person seeking the records is entitled to them.

For instructions on filing a right to know request:  How to file a right to know request