Open Records Act
The Georgia Open Records Act opens to public inspection records maintained by most governmental bodies and agencies or private companies carrying out governmental functions. In general, all records, in whatever form maintained, including books, maps, tapes, photographs, and computer-based information, which are prepared and maintained or which are received in the course of operation of a public office or agency are defined as public records. All public records are open to the general public and subject to personal inspection, and copying, at a reasonable time and place.
Agencies are not required to prepare reports, summaries, or compilations of public records. Records are to be made available to individuals, but government employees do not have to take time from their usual duties to create records or make summaries. The custodian of the public records has three business days to decide whether the record requested is subject to inspection under the law and to provide access to the document for inspection and copying. If within that period a superior court grants an order declaring that the records are not subject to disclosure, then they do not have to be disclosed.
Any records maintained by computer are to be made available to requesting parties by electronic means where "practicable"; it is not clear what "practicable" means in this context. Reasonable security restrictions on electronic access to such documents are permitted.
An individual who has the right to inspect a record also has the right to make extracts or copies of the records under the supervision of the custodian of the records; the custodian has the right to adopt and enforce reasonable rules governing this work.
Agencies subject to the Open Records Act must provide at least fifteen minutes of free time for search, retrieval, and other direct administrative tasks associated with complying with the request for a public record. The hourly charge that is imposed should not exceed the salary of the lowest-paid employee who has the necessary skill and training to carry out the request. The custodian of records is given the discretion to decide which employee has the skill and training to oversee the copying of these records. Agencies are required to utilize the most economical means available for providing copies of a public record.
Public disclosure is not required for records that the federal government specifically requires to be kept confidential or for medical and veterinary records and similar files, the disclosure of which would be an invasion of personal privacy. Public disclosure also is not required for records of law enforcement, prosecution, or regulatory agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity. This does not include initial police arrest reports and initial incident reports, which are subject to public disclosure unless they contain confidential information. Individual Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reports are also not subject to disclosure unless the person requesting the record submits a written statement of need or is named or otherwise identified in the report.
Among other records not subject to disclosure are confidential evaluations submitted to, or examinations prepared by, a governmental agency in connection with the hiring of public officers or employees; records relating to the investigation of the suspension or firing of public officers or employees or of complaints against them, until ten days after the same information has been presented to the agency or officer, or at the conclusion of the investigation; and certain records pertaining to real estate appraisals, cost estimates, and bids.
Personal information such as Social Security number, mother's birth names, credit card information, debit card information, bank account information, financial data or information, day and month of birth, and insurance or medical information must be removed from records provided under this law.
Records that would reveal the home address, telephone number, Social Security number, or insurance or medical information of various state employees (including law enforcement officers, judges, correctional employees, and prosecutors) or identify immediate family members or dependents of those employees are not subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act. This restriction also applies to information about public school teachers and employees.
The Open Records Act is not intended to reach records that are subject to the attorney-client privilege or qualify as attorney work product. Also, agencies are not required to make available to the public any computer program or software used or maintained in the course of operation of a public office or agency.
The attorney general, as well as other citizens, has the authority to bring actions, either civil or criminal, to enforce compliance with the act. Such an action would be brought in the superior court. The law also protects from liability an agency or person who reveals information in good-faith reliance on the Open Records Act.
Susan Pruett, Georgia Municipal Association
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.