Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law

Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law "Provides access to public information, for a designated open-records officer in each Commonwealth agency, local agency, judicial agency and legislative agency, for procedure, for appeal of agency determination, for judicial review and for the Office of Open Records; imposing penalties; providing for reporting by State-related institutions; requiring the posting of certain State contract information on the Internet; and making related repeals.” 

Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records enforces the state’s Right-to-Know Law and serves as a resource for citizens, public officials and members of the media in obtaining public records of their government.  Agencies are reminded to ensure that citizens are provided access to records to which they are entitled.  Equally important, the Office of Open Records reminds citizens to use good judgment in seeking records from the public body and not use this law to harass or overburden a public body from performing its other functions.  If you have any questions or need more information please contact the Office of Open Records at (717) 346-9903 or by email.  

PRESUMPTION OF OPENNESS: Records are Public Unless

All records are presumed to be public records unless disclosure is barred by:
  1. State or federal law or regulation, or judicial order; or
  2. Privilege, e.g., attorney-client, doctor-patient, or
  3. One of the exceptions in Section 708 of the Right-to-Know Law. 

The burden is 100 percent on the Agency to establish why the record is not available.  

WHO IS SUBJECT TO THE LAW: Agencies Must Comply

Commonwealth Agencies: Any office, department, authority or other parts of the executive branch, state-affiliated entities, independent agencies, and includes the Governor, Attorney General, Auditor General and the Treasury Department. Local Agencies: Any political subdivision, intermediate unit, or charter, public trade or vocational school [or] any local, intergovernmental, regional or municipal agency, authority, council, board commission or similar governmental entity.

Legislative Agencies: The Senate, House of Representatives and many committees and commissions like the Capitol Preservation Committee, the IRRC, Center for Rural Pennsylvania, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and Legislative Audit Advisory Commission to name a few.  For a complete list, see Section 102. Judicial Agencies: Any entity or office of the unified judicial system, like Magisterial District Judges.

WHAT IS COVERED BY THE LAW: Records, not Questions

Make sure when you file a RTK request, you are seeking records and not just asking questions.  The law governs release of records which are defined as “any information regardless of its physical form or character that documents a transaction or activity of an agency AND is created, received, or retained pursuant to law OR in connection with a transaction, business or activity of an agency.” Records can take many forms, including papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, film or sound recordings, information stored or maintained electronically and a data-processed or image-processed documents. Note that e-mails can also be a form of public records, subject to any exceptions.  

EXCEPTIONS: Protects Certain Information From Disclosure

The law contains 30 exceptions, cited in Section 708, that permit an Agency to withhold records.  An Agency may deny release of a record if it falls within one of the 30 exceptions designed to protect information that is confidential or may jeopardize safety or investigations.  Types of records that can be withheld include records related to personal or public security, DNA/RNA records, autopsy records, social security numbers, personal financial information, personal email addresses, marital status, identity of a covert law enforcement officer, home address of judges or law enforcement, confidential source records, victim information.  

HOW TO FILE A REQUEST

A citizen can file a Right-to-Know request in four ways. You can submit your request by:
  1. Fax
  2. Electronic mail
  3. In person
  4. U.S. Mail

When submitting a request to the Agency, always retain a copy for your file.  A copy of this RTK request would be necessary if you should need to file an appeal to our office upon denial.

The first thing a citizen should do to file a RTK request is check with the local or Commonwealth Agency to determine the Open Records Officer (each Agency must have one) and whether the Agency has a Right-to-Know request form.  You can always use the Uniform Request Form available on this website to file a request.  Address your request to the Open Records Officer.  Some Agencies use the term “Right-to-Know Officer.”

You should make sure that your request for records is specific and concise.  Identify as specifically as you can the records you want, so that an Agency can quickly locate them and determine whether they are public record.

Please be advised that if you send an e-mail request or file a request in person it does not speed-up the time that that an Agency has to respond to your request.  An Agency has five business days to respond to a request, whether you place the request in person or by mail.  

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE AGENCY

An Agency has five business days to respond in writing to: 1) grant the request, 2) deny the request (citing the legal basis for denial/partial denial) or 3) invoke a 30-day extension for certain reasons. The clock starts the day after the request is received during regular business hours.

Acceptable grounds for a 30-day extension includes: off-site location of records, staffing limitations, need for legal review or redaction, complex request, or requester did not pay applicable fees as required, or failed to follow Agency policy. If an Agency does not respond to a request in the allotted time, the request is deemed denied, and you have the right to file an appeal with the Office of Open Records.