Iowa Attorney General

November 1, 2001

Personally Examining Records -- Giving a "Free Peek"

Updated December 1, 2014

Do you know what obligations public offices have when a citizen asks to see a public record? Personal examination of records is just one of the ways citizens may have access to public records.

When a person visits a public office and asks to see a public record, several principles apply:

  • Every person has the right to personally examine public records at the physical location where the records are kept, unless a specific provision of law requires confidentiality or provides grounds to withhold the record from public scrutiny.
  • The office cannot charge a person to personally examine a public record while it is in the office's physical possession, unless a specific provision of law grants the office the right to charge a fee. The office may charge a person the actual cost for retrieving the record and for making any copies of the record that are requested -- but not for personally examining the record.
  • The right to personally examine public records does not extend to certain computer data bases or data processing software. Public offices are not required to provide direct access to their computers.

Understanding the right of every person to come to an office and personally examine public records helps assure that access to public records is provided in compliance with the law -- and helps forge a good relationship between public offices and the citizens they serve.

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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