Your Right To Government Records Under OPRA (the Open Public Records Act)
The Open Public Records Act (OPRA) is a New Jersey state statute (NJSA 47:1A-1 et seq.) which replaces the former “Right to Know Law” which previously governed requests for government records from members of the public. The law expands the public’s right of access to government records, creates a framework for receiving, acting upon and allowing appeals (when requests are denied) and defines what are, and are not, government records and agencies. In addition to the law itself, many court decisions, executive orders of governors and other statutes also speak to these issues.
The public’s right to hold government accountable has never been more endangered, at least based on the present Federal example, so it’s important to know about your rights to government records. OPRA and the frameworks in which it operates can be confusing and daunting, despite the public policy which underlies the law:
- That government records must be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by its citizens, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest;
- That any limitations on the right of access to government records must be interpreted in favor of the public’s right of access, and;
- That a public agency has a responsibility and an obligation to protect a citizen’s personal information that is in the possession of a public agency when disclosure of that information would violate the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
When people or organizations wish to obtain such records, so many questions present themselves, such as:
- Who can file an OPRA request?
- How do I do it?
- What’s a “public record?”
- What’s a “public agency?”
- How long can the agency take?”
- What can I be charged?”
- On what basis can my request be narrowed or denied?”
- When, and how, can an agency “redact” (“black out”) portions of the records I want?”
- How can I challenge improper delays, redactions, charges or refusals?
“When government oppression breaks the law it shows contempt for law and people and breeds anarchy.” – Justice Louis Brandeis of the United States Supreme Court.