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August 1, 2002

"Golden Rules" for Public Records Requests

Here are "Golden Rules" to help public officials respond to requests for access to public records -- and to explain the legal rights of persons requesting access:

Rule 1: The reason a requester wants the record is irrelevant. (So, officials should not ask.)

Records which are open to public examination must be produced no matter what the reason for the request. The public can examine and copy a record just because it's there!

Rule 2: The identity of the requester usually is irrelevant. (Officials should not ask for identification, unless there is a lawful reason to do so.)

Members of the public usually should not be required to identify themselves in order to get access to public records. However, if a record is only open to certain people for limited purposes (for example, motor vehicle accident records), then the lawful custodian may need to ask for additional information to assure the record is only provided to those entitled to see it.

Rule 3: Public records may not be withheld without legal authority.

Iowa's public policy is simple: Every person has the right to examine and copy public records, and officials' failure to provide access to public records can result in civil penalties. Before access to a record is denied, public officials must have a valid legal reason for denying access to the record. Public officials may consult with their legal counsel if necessary.

Iowa Code Ch. 22 spells out the rights and obligations of getting and giving access to public records. Officials managing public records should follow the Golden Rules: Don't ask irrelevant questions, and don't deny access without legal authority.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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