The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, enacted in 1979, is a statute guaranteeing members of the public access to public records of government bodies in Rhode Island. According to the purpose of the law is also to prevent the disclosure of information about certain persons that are kept in the files of public bodies. This only applies when disclosure of such information constitutes an unnecessary invasion of personal privacy.
The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act in defines public records as all documents regardless of physical form or characteristics created, kept, or received according to ordinance or law or in connection with the transaction of official business by any public body. This includes papers, books, tapes, letters, maps, films, sound recordings, photographs, magnetic or other tapes, computer-stored data, and electronic data processing records.
Despite this definition, the following records are not considered public:
- All records pertaining to a doctor/patient relationship and a client/attorney relationship, including all medical information relating to a person in any file
- Trade secrets and financial or commercial information gotten from a person, corporation, or firm that is of a confidential or privileged nature
- Adoption and child custody records, records of illegitimate births, and records of juvenile trials before the family court
- Any record that is made unavailable by a rule of court or law to an opposing party in litigation
- Technological and scientific secrets and the security plans of law enforcement and military agencies, the disclosure of which may threaten the public welfare and security
- Any record that divulges the identity of the contributor of a legitimate and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever the contributor requests public anonymity of the public body concerning the contribution
- Reports and statements of negotiation or strategy involving collective bargaining or labor negotiations
- Statements and reports of negotiation or strategy that has to do with the borrowing or investment of public funds, until the time as those transactions are entered into
- The minutes of a meeting of a public body that does not require disclosure
- Tax returns
- Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination details used to conduct a licensing examination, academic examinations, or examination for employment or promotion. However, a person that took the examination has the right to review the results
- Library records that reveal the identity of the library user checking out, requesting, or using any library materials
Records kept and maintained by law enforcement agencies for criminal law enforcement, and those relating to the detection and investigation of crime are public records. However, such records are considered confidential if the records:
- may interfere with the investigation of criminal activity or with criminal enforcement proceedings
- May deprive an individual of a right to an impartial adjudication or fair trial
- May constitute an unreasonable and unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
- May divulge the identity of a confidential source or the information provided by a confidential source
- May disclose procedures and techniques for law enforcement prosecutions or investigations or may divulge guidelines for law enforcement prosecutions or investigations
- May endanger the physical safety or life of any individual
The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act gives every person and entity the right to inspect and copy public records at reasonable times as determined by the custodian of the record. The public body or official receiving the request for the inspection or copying of a public record must permit it within ten business days after receiving the request. If the public body or official fails to do so, such an agency or official must explain in writing the need for more time to comply with the request.
The explanation must be particular to the actual request made. In such situations, the agency or official has an additional twenty business days to fulfill the request if it demonstrates that the number of pending public records, the voluminous nature of the request, or the difficulty in searching for and retrieving or copying the records, is such that extra time is needed to avoid imposing an undue burden on the public agency.
Any denial of the right to copy or inspect Rhode Island public records, partly or wholly, must be made in writing to the person requesting the right. The agency must give the specific reasons for the denial within ten business days of the request and state the procedures for appealing the denial. Any public body that fails to comply with a request to inspect or copy a public record within the ten business day period is deemed to have denied the request.
In cases when a public agency fails to furnish requested records within the provided time frame, the agency must waive the copying and search and retrieval fees. Note, if the public agency was awaiting receipt of payment for fees properly charged, it cannot be considered a denial of the record. If the public body received a request to inspect or copy a Rhode Island public record that does not exist or are not within its custody or control, must in responding to the request state that it does not have or maintain the requested records.
If the requested public record is in active use or storage and, as such, is unavailable at the time an individual requests access, the custodian must inform the person. The public agency must also make an appointment for the individual to examine the records as expeditiously as may be made available.
When making a request for a public record, no statement of purpose is required. The requester may obtain it in any and all media in which the public body is capable of furnishing it. A Public agency that keeps its records in a computer storage system must provide the data properly identified in a printout or any other reasonable format, as requested.
Anyone that was denied the right to inspect or copy a Rhode Island public record may petition the chief administrative officer of that agency to review the decision made by the subordinate. The chief administrative officer must, within ten days after receiving the petition, make a final determination whether to allow public inspection or not. If the custodian of the public record or the chief administrative officer decides that the record is confidential, the requester may file a complaint with the attorney general.
The attorney general investigates the complaint, and if the allegations are deemed meritorious, the attorney general institutes a proceeding for declaratory or injunctive relief. The proceeding is filed on behalf of the complainant in the relevant superior court. The complainant may alternatively decide to retain the services of a private counsel to institute the proceedings.
All public agencies may establish written procedures that requesters must follow to gain access to the Rhode Island public records. However, by vesti dana of the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, public bodies cannot demand written requests for public information obtainable pursuant to , Rhode Island General Laws. The same applies to other documents made for or readily available to the public.
According to of the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, a public agency must not demand more than $0.15 per page for records on common business or legal-size paper. For electronic records, the agency’s charge must not exceed the reasonable, actual cost for providing or retrieving it from storage.