Indiana Freedom of Information Act
What is the Indiana Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that permits the conditional disclosure of public records possessed by government agencies. The Indiana Freedom of Information Act is referred to as the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). The Act grants individuals access to information about the government and its activities. The Indiana General Assembly passed the Access to Public Records Act in 1983. Its purpose is to provide Indiana residents with easy access to public records.
Certain bills have been passed to amend the Access to Public Records Act; some of these bills are:
- Senate Bill 528, approved in 2015, renamed the State Commission on Public Records as the Indiana Archives and Records Administration and the Central Micrographics Laboratory as the State Imaging and Microfilm Laboratory. The Bill also classified death records, political subdivisions records, and the Indiana Department of Health records as public records. It empowers the state registrar to deny public records requests on suspicion that the record may be used to commit identity fraud.
- House Bill 1019, approved in 2016, established the steps for releasing law enforcement recordings. The bill also exempts custodial interrogations described in Indiana Evidence Rule 617 from provisions applicable to law enforcement recordings. Pursuant to the bill, requesters may view recordings at least twice. Requesters may be any of the following:
- Individuals that appear in the recording; the relatives or representatives of these individuals may have access if the individual is deceased
- Owners or occupants of the property that appear in the recording
- Victims of crimes, if the events recorded is relevant to the crime
- Individuals who experience personal injury or property damage provided the information is relevant to the loss
The bill further stipulates that requesters may get their attorney fees and other court costs reimbursed if they were unjustly denied access to public records. The bill recommends the exemption of recordings that:
- Pose a security risk to the individuals in the recordings or any member of the public
- Interfere with a trial
- Affect an investigation
- The release is not in the best interest of the public
The bill also restricts access to recordings that show operations of airport security procedures without approval from airport operators. In addition, the Bill mandates that no more than $150 is paid for the release of recordings. It identifies details that must be redacted by law enforcement before the recordings can be shared with third parties.
What is Covered Under the Indiana Freedom of Information Act?
The Indiana Access to Public Records Act covers all public records in the state. Per Section 5-14-3-2 of the Indiana Code, a public record is any record that is received, created, or maintained by a public agency regardless of its form. Public records include writings, maps, photographs, books, cards, tape recordings, recordings made on paper substitutes, photographic media, chemically defined media, magnetic-readable media, and electronically stored data. Some of these records are:
- Permits and licenses applications
- Transcripts of public hearings with testimonies
- Survey plans
- Board and committee report and recommendation
- Contracts to which the state or local unit of government is a party
- Court documents
- Property records
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act Indiana?
Under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, certain records are exempt from disclosure. These records are kept confidential unless disclosure is permitted by a state or federal statute or court order under the rules of discovery. Per Section 5-14-3-4 of the Indiana Code, the following records are exempted from disclosure:
- Records made confidential by the Indiana Supreme Court rules
- Records that are confidential by state statute, such as Juvenile Court records, victims' addresses, motor vehicle records, juvenile law enforcement records, and patient treatment records
- Records made confidential by federal law
- Records that contain the social security numbers of individuals
- Patients' medical records
- A photograph, video recording, or audio recording of an autopsy
- Records containing trade secrets
- Records containing confidential financial information
- Transcripts of grades and results of license examinations obtained as part of the licensure procedure
- Application information declared confidential by the board of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation
- Debtors' contact information in line with the provisions of Section 32-30-10.5-8(D)(1)(B) of the Indiana Code
- Details of active investigations of law enforcement agencies
These records are exempt from the Act for a variety of reasons; some of which are:
- The record may be used to exploit or abuse a person
- The record poses a risk to the security of the state
- The record may contain information that may violate an individual's privacy rights
- The record is made confidential to protect the owner of the concealed information
Public records designated as confidential, except for adoption records, are available for public examination and copying 75 years after they were generated.
How Do I File an Indiana Freedom of Information Act Request?
A record request can be submitted by mail, email, in person, over the phone, or any form as prescribed by the record custodian. Per Section 5-14-3 of the Indiana Code, requesters must provide detailed descriptions of the records that they are requesting. Government agencies in Indiana have different ways individuals may make APRA requests.
For instance, the Indiana Office of Court Services, in line with Section 5-14-3-3 of the Indiana Code requires requesters of public records from the Indiana Supreme Court or other lower courts in the state to complete the Public Record Request Form. Requesters are required to provide their contact information. The agency responds to all records requests via regular mail unless requesters choose to be contacted via other means.
Similarly, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) Office of General Counsel responds to requests made for public records in its custody. A requester can complete the IDHS Public Records Request Web Form and submit it online or in-person at any of the agency's locations in the state.
In Indiana, county records requests may be made directly at the records custodians' offices in the various counties across the state. Generally, counties require requesters to complete the records request forms which may be found online on their websites or at the local counties' offices. For instance, Marion County residents may submit records requests in person or via mail at:
Office of the Corporate Council
200 East Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Indiana?
Per the APRA, public agencies cannot charge for an examination or a search for records unless the search exceeds two hours or the number of pages duplicated exceeds 100 pages. The State Department of Administration has set a duplication cost of 10 cents per page for black and white copies and 25 cents per page for color copies for agencies in the executive branch.
The law permits a requester to state a limit on the amount they are willing to pay for a public record request, and the public agency to whom the request is sent will notify the requester when the fee has exceeded the said limit. In such a case, the requester may narrow their request or pay the additional costs associated with their request. Requesters may also have their documents certified at $5.
For commercial requests, requesters are charged for search time, documents review, and duplication. News media, academic, or scientific researchers are charged for duplication only after the first 100 pages. The charge for duplicating computer tapes, microfilms, or video of law enforcement recordings is limited to $150. The agency may require the requester to pay copying charges in advance.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Indiana?
Indiana public agencies must respond to Access to Public Records requests within a reasonable time. For instance, the IDHS may take as much as four to six weeks to process some record requests. The time taken to process records requests depends on the following factors:
- The number of records requested
- Where the records are stored
- How long the records have been stored
- The mode of communication used by the requester
- The public agency that possesses the records
Per the APRA, public agencies are required to respond to APRA requests made over the phone or in person within 24 hours. Requests made via mail, email, or fax must be responded to within 7 days. Records custodians must issue notices of denial for denied APRA requests.
A requester may file a complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) if an agency fails to respond to their request in due time. Individuals may also seek redress through Trial Courts for APRA requests that are unjustly denied.