Oklahoma Freedom of Information Act
What is the Oklahoma Freedom of Information Act?
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that empowers an individual to request access to copies of public records maintained by a state or federal government agency. This Act helps to keep the public informed about government activities. Oklahoma's FOIA is known as the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The Oklahoma Open Records Act permits the public to inspect all government records in the state, except those that are exempted from public disclosure by law. It was enacted on November 1, 1985, and amended severally, but notably in 1989 and 2017. The 1989 amendment of the Oklahoma Open Records Act made provision for the public inspection and copying of records maintained by law enforcement agencies. The 2017 amendment mandated public agencies to fulfill record requests without unreasonable delay.
What is Covered Under the Oklahoma Freedom of Information Act?
Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, the following types of government records are accessible to the public on request:
- Documents containing transactions of public businesses
- Records about the administration of public property
- Records of expenditure of public funds
The Oklahoma Open Records Act covers public records such as books, photographs, papers, and microfilms. Electronic records covered under the Act include data files, computer tapes, sound recordings, and video recordings.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Oklahoma?
The Oklahoma Open Records Act exempts specific records from public disclosure to prevent interference with law enforcement investigation, avoid privacy invasion, and protect lives and property. According to Section 51.24A.2 of the Oklahoma Statutes, state or federal laws can exempt certain information from public disclosure. Per Section 51.24A.5 and Section 51.24A.3 of the Oklahoma Statutes, the following records are not subject to public disclosure:
- Information protected by evidentiary privileges such as the identity of an informer, confidential information between an attorney and a client, and work product information prepared by an attorney for a litigation
- A driver's personal record as provided in the Driver Privacy Protection Act contained between Section 18.2721 and Section 18.2725 of the United States Code
- Materials designed for a state licensure examination, including question banks, test forms, and answer keys (Test preparation materials and study guides are not exempt from disclosure)
- Records of the Board of Medicolegal Investigations obtained in line with Sections 63.940 and Section 63.941 of the Oklahoma Statutes, if:
- They may be hearsay
- They are unproven findings obtained in a preliminary investigation
- They are confidential medical information
- Social security numbers of every individual, including public agency employees and persons working for private organizations
- Portions of any public record containing exempt information
- Identifying information on criminal history records maintained by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), such as the names and birth dates of individuals
- Personal financial data such as credit reports submitted to a public agency for obtaining a license, becoming qualified for a contract, or evaluating creditworthiness
- Personal information of any guest at a facility operated or owned by the Board of Directors of the Quartz Mountain Arts or the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department
- Vehicle movement records, videos, and audio recordings maintained by the Oklahoma Transportation Authority as part of its electronic toll collection and safeguarding system
- A DD Form 214 (Department of Defense Form 214) filed with a county clerk
- Public agency personnel records as provided in Section 51.24A.7 of the Oklahoma Statutes, if:
- They contain internal personnel investigations such as employment selection materials, discipline, promotion, demotion, or resignation
- They would disclose payroll deductions and transcripts from higher institutions
- Law enforcement video and audio recordings maintained according to Section 51.24A.8(A)(10)(b) of the Oklahoma Statutes, that:
- Show nudity, severe violence resulting in serious bodily injury, or the death of a person, unless the death or violence was caused by a law enforcement officer
- Violate the provisions of Sections 43A.1.109 or Section 43A.3.428 of the Oklahoma Statutes for the detention or transportation of individuals for mental health evaluation, treatment, or drug or alcohol detoxification
- Identify or endanger persons who anonymously provided information to law enforcement, or infringe informer confidentiality as provided in Section 2510 of Title 12 of the Oklahoma Statutes
- Disclose the personal information such as government-issued identification number, financial information, address, or birth date of a person not officially charged, issued a written warning, or arrested by law enforcement
- Would compromise an ongoing criminal prosecution or investigation
How Do I File an Oklahoma Freedom of Information Act Request?
To obtain a public record under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, check the website of the relevant public agency for instructions or visit their physical office. Typically, public agencies in Oklahoma provide forms that anyone can complete and submit to obtain sought records. For instance, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority makes its Open Records Request Form available online. When completing the records search form, a requester can choose to receive the record by mail, email, or pick it up at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority office building. Similarly, a person interested in getting public records from the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General (OAG) must complete the Open Records Act Request Form and send it via mail to:
Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General
313 North East 21st Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Oklahoma?
The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires public agencies to charge certain fees to obtain copies of public records. However, Section 51.24A.5(4) of the Oklahoma Statutes prohibits public agencies from charging over 25 cents per page of record 8.5"x14" or smaller. An agency cannot charge more than $1 per page of a certified record. They can charge a fee to cover the searching and duplicating costs if the record is needed for a commercial purpose or would disrupt the public agency's normal functions. However, an agency cannot charge a search fee if a requested record is for the public interest.
Typically, Oklahoma public agencies notify public record requesters about the required fees for copying records after filing their requests. For instance, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) sends details of record fees to requesters by email after filing. Similarly, the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office notifies requesters of the appropriate fees after submitting their public record request. The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) informs requesters about the estimated costs of copying and delivering (if applicable) public records via mail after filing. Typically, the OMES charges $40 per hour for record searches. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) charges $25 per hour for commercial purpose requests. It also charges $80 per hour if computer programming is required to fulfill a public record request and $85 per hour when additional legal support is needed.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Oklahoma?
The Oklahoma Open Records Act does not specify the time limit for public agencies to respond to record requests. Each agency has its record request processing time, usually within 30 days. Some record requests may take longer than others depending on:
- The volume of pending requests and workload of a public agency where sought records are maintained
- The extent of search required to retrieve a requested record
- The need to seek legal advice or consult with another public agency
According to Section 51.24A.17(B) of the Oklahoma Statutes, a person denied access to a public record could file a lawsuit for declaratory or injunctive relief to obtain the record.