Arizona Public Records Laws
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Ombudsman – Citizens’ Aide receive complaints regarding matters related to public records?
Yes, we receive complaints regarding matters related to public access laws including public records. The Arizona public access laws do not apply to federal agencies.
Does the Ombudsman- Citizens’ Aide receive complaints regarding local government agencies?
Yes, but only for matters relating to Arizona’s public record and open meeting law.
Will the Ombudsman’s Office tell me where to find the records or get the records for me?
No. The Ombudsman’s Office does not locate or request records for you. For some information on where to obtain various types of records go to the Arizona State Library website. To obtain records, you must contact the public body that you believe maintains the record and make a request.
How can I obtain a copy of a birth or death certificate?
Please review the Arizona Department of Health Office of Vital Records website.
What are public records?
In most cases, anything created or received by a government agency or employee that relates to public business. This includes records created or received in the course of business (even if on personal computers). This includes all books, papers, maps, photographs or documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including prints or copies of such items produced or reproduced on film or electronic media made or received by any governmental agency in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. A.R.S. §§ 39-121.01(B) and 41-1350.
What public records are available to the public?
All public records are available for inspection unless
- they are confidential by law (statute, rule, or privilege),
- privacy interests outweigh the public’s right to know, or
- disclosure is not in the best interest of the state.
Who must retain records?
Any person elected or appointed to hold any elective or appointive office of any public body. Also included are the chief administrative officer, head, director, superintendent or chairman of any public body. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(A)(1).
Public bodies include the state; any county, city, town, school district, political subdivision or tax-supported district in the state; any branch, department, board, bureau, commission, council or committee of the before mentioned; and any public organization or agency supported in whole or in part or expending monies provided by the state or any political subdivision of the state. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(A)(2).
Do I have to tell the public body why I want the record?
You are not required to state the purpose for the record request or the reason you want the record. You are required to disclose whether the public records will be used for a commercial or non-commercial purpose. Requestors are required to provide the purpose of a commercial request.
What is a commercial purpose?
A commercial purpose includes:
- Obtaining records which will be used for sale or resale
- Obtaining names and addresses for purpose of solicitation, or
- The sale of names and addresses for the purpose of solicitation or any other purpose in which the purchaser can reasonable anticipate monetary gain. A.R.S. § 39-121.03.
This does not include the use of public records as evidence or research for evidence in an action. It also does not include obtaining records for news gathering.
Is there a fee to inspect records?
No, inspection is free. A person is entitled to inspect a record without receiving a copy. You may also make notes from the record and take them with you.
Can the public body charge me for copies?
Yes. A.R.S. § 39-121.01.
The cost will depend on whether the records will be used for a commercial or non-commercial purposes.
A person requesting copies for a non-commercial purpose may be charged a copying fee, which includes a reasonable amount of the cost of time, equipment, and personnel used in producing copies. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D)(1).
The public body may not charge for the cost of searching the records. Hanania v. City of Tucson,128 Ariz. 135, 624 P.2d 332 (Ct. App. 1980); Ariz. Att’y Gen. Op. I13-012.
The public body also cannot charge for inspection of the record, labor, redaction, overhead costs, or any fee to examine or review a record to determine whether the record is disclosable.
If a record will be used for commercial purposes the public body may impose a higher fee based on the following:
- Portion of the cost to the public body for obtaining the record,
- A reasonable fee for the cost of time, materials, equipment, and personnel in reproducing the record, and
- The value of the reproduction on the commercial market as best determined by the public body. A.R.S. § 39-121.03(A).
Free copies must be provided for:
- A claim for a pension, allotment, allowance, compensation, insurance or other benefits which are to be presented to the United States or a bureau or department thereof and
- Police reports for victim or family member as well as a copy of the minute entry or portion of the record of any proceeding in the case that arises out of the offense committed against the victim and that is reasonably necessary for the purpose of pursing a claimed victim’s right. A.R.S. §§ 39-122(A) and -127.
If requesting a public record for news gathering purposes is not a commercial purpose, what about requesting mailing lists to sell newspapers?
Requesting a mailing list to sell newspapers is a commercial purposes and the public body may impose additional fees.
How long does the public body have to provide the records requested?
The law requires prompt disclosure. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D)(1). What constitutes prompt depends on what is reasonable under the circumstances.
Criteria that will be taken into account includes: the agency’s resources, the nature of the request, the content of the records (particularly whether information must be redacted), and the location of the records (for instance, whether the records are stored off site). That said, mere inconvenience does not justify delay. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently applied the Webster’s Dictionary definition, which defines prompt as “quick to act or to do what is required” or “done, spoken, etc., at once or without delay.”
Also, keep in mind that some public bodies are required by statute to provide records within a specifically stated period of time.
Can the public agency withhold a record because some of the information is precluded from disclosure?
No. The public body is required to separate or redact the parts of the record that are precluded from disclosure and provide the rest.
Does the public body have to tell me why they are withholding a record?
Yes. The public body must provide a legal basis for not disclosing a record. In addition, upon request state agencies, with a few exceptions, are required to provide an index of each record withheld and a reason for withholding that record. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D)(2).
How long must a public body keep public records?
It depends on the record. Every public body is required to have and follow a retention and disposition schedule. A.R.S. § 41-1346(A). Records are organized into record series and their retention period is determined by Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records.
Are e-mails sent or received by public officials, public bodies, and government employees public record?
It depends. While the presumption is that everything created or received on office time with office equipment constitutes a public record, the nature and purpose of the document determine its status as a public record. The Supreme Court has recently concluded that purely personal e-mail, that has no relationship to official duties, is not automatically a public record just because it was on a government computer and e-mail system. That said, e-mails sent or received by a public official or public employee regarding public business constitute public records regardless of the e-mail account. This includes e-mails sent from or received by personal and other non-government e-mail systems or accounts.
How long must public bodies and public officers retain e-mail?
E-mail is destroyed once its retention period expires. E-mail, however, is not in and of itself a “record series”. It is a medium by which records are transmitted and therefore, its retention depends on the classification of the e-mail. Therefore, it must first be determined what type of record it is depending on its subject, content, and attachments. Common e-mail record series include: administrative correspondence, general correspondence, and transitory information (i.e. junk mail).
E-mails are also often stored on the server backup tapes for a period of time after the back up is run. Records that exist on back up tapes must be restored and retrieved in response to a public records request.
Like any other public record, if an e-mail is kept after its retention period has expired, it must still be furnished in response to a public records request. It may not be destroyed once a request is made.
I requested copies of public records and cannot afford the copying fee. Must the public body waive the copying fee if it causes financial hardship?
No. The law permits public bodies to impose a copying fee and does not require a waiver for financial hardship. That said, public bodies are not required to impose a charge for copies.
Do the Anti-Identification Statutes (A.R.S. §§ 18-201, -521, and -522) affect the type of personal identifying information that may be redacted from public records?
No. The legislation adds nothing new to the existing public records law and provides no guidance as to redaction of personal identifying information contained in public records. While government agencies are required to develop procedures to protect entity and personal identifying information from hacking of electronic data and unauthorized access or change to the data, they should continue to apply existing public records principles when this information is contained in a public record. In other words, if entity and personal identifying information is contained in a public record it is presumptively subject to disclosure. Redaction or withholding of information should only occur when the information is deemed confidential by statute or where privacy interests or best interests of the state prevail and trump the public’s right to know.
Does Arizona’s public records law require government entities to comply with on-going public record requests?
In the recent opinion, West Valley Valley View, Inc. v. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, 216 Ariz. 225, 165 P.3d 203 (Ariz. App. 1 2007), the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that nothing in A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D) precludes an ongoing request for disclosure of a narrowly defined, clearly identifiable category of to-be-created documents that the public agency concedes are public records.