Note: This page covers information specific to Georgia. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
If you are a resident of Georgia, you have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of Georgia's public records using the state's Open Records Act (OPA). See Title 50, Chapter 18, Article 4, section 70(b) of the Georgia Annotated Code (Ga. Code Ann.). The Georgia Attorney General has issued an opinion that non-residents should also be given access, so it is worth making a request even if you are a not a citizen. See 1993 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 93-27.
What Records Are Covered in Georgia
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You can inspect the public records of all state departments, agencies, boards, bureaus, commissions and authorities, as well as county and municipal government entities and regional authorities. The OPA also covers private entities performing a service for a public agency, as well as nonprofit organizations that receive more than one-third of their funding from tax funds. Ga. Code Ann. § 50-18-70, Ga. Code Ann. § 50-14-1. See Access to Government Meetings in Georgia and Georgia State Court Records for more information on how to access records from those entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You have the right to inspect all public records of the government bodies subject to the OPA. The term "public records" is broadly defined to include all all written documents, maps, books, tapes, photographs, and electronic information, prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of a government body. Ga. Code Ann. § 50-18-70(a).
A government body may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- Confidential documents--Documents specifically required by the federal government to be kept confidential are exempt;
- Personal privacy--Medical or veterinary records and similar files, the disclosure of which would be an invasion of personal privacy, are exempt;
- Law enforcement investigations--This exemption applies to records of law enforcement agencies dealing with confidential sources and other confidential information;
- Law enforcement investigations--Records of pending law enforcement or regulatory investigations;
- Motor vehicle accident reports--Individual Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reports are exempt, except upon the submission of a written statement of need by an interested party (eg. the owner of the car involved in an accident);
- Hiring and firing--Records relating to the hiring or firing of an agency employee or officer, or investigation of pending complaints against public officers or employees are exempt;
- Acquisition of real property--real estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates, or other records made for or by an agency in relation to the future acquisition of real property;
- Top candidates--Records related to the top three candidates for the head or an agency or of a school in the university system are exempt;
- Staff services--Records related to the provision of staff services to the legislature or legislative research offices;
- Donated records--Records that are of historical research value which are given or sold to public archival institutions, public libraries, or libraries of a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia are exempt if the owner or donor of such records wishes to place restrictions on access to the records;
- Historic properties--Records that contain information from the Department of Natural Resources relating to the location and character of historic properties are exempt;
- Rare species and sensitive habitats--Records that contain site specific information regarding the occurrence of rare species of plants or animals or the location of sensitive natural habitats on public or private property if the Department of Natural Resources determines that disclosure will create a substantial risk of harm, theft, or destruction to the species or habitats or the area or place where the species or habitats are located;
- Social security number etc--An individual's social security number, insurance or medical information in personnel records, shall be redacted from such records;
- Alarm systems--The names, home addresses, telephone numbers, security codes, etc held in connection with burglar alarm systems, fire alarm systems, or other electronic security systems;
- Electronic signature--Public records containing information that would disclose any component relating to an electronic signature which would jepordize that person's sole control over his or her electronic signature is exempt; or
- Personal details of government employees--This exemption applies to records that would reveal the home address or telephone number, social security number, or insurance or medical information of law enforcement officers, judges, scientists employed by the Division of Forensic Sciences of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, correctional employees, and prosecutors, or their familes.
Trade secrets, certain research projects, some testing materials, firearms licensing information, or information covered under the attorney-client privilege or material that is attorney work product are also exempt. See Ga. Code Ann. § 50-18-72.
Consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: Georgia for more information on these exemptions.
How to Request Records in Georgia
If your request is straightforward, you may find it quickest and easiest to make an informal request over the telephone. If the public records officer is unable to fulfill your request over your phone, or if your request is complicated or potentially controversial, you should put your request in a letter.
There is no prescribed form or content for a public records request letter, but your letter should be addressed the public records officer of the agency and should contain the following information, as appropriate:
- A statement that this is a public records request, citing Section 50-18-70 of the Georgia Code;
- A clear description of the records you seek
- A request that fees be waived on the basis that your request is in the public interest, and/or a statement of how much you are prepared to pay in fees
- A demand that if the agency refuses your request, it cite the specific statutory exemption it relies upon, and provides any non-exempt portions of otherwise exempt documents
Alternatively, use Student Press Law Center's State Open Records Law Request Letter Generator to produce a request letter that complies with Georgia law. Additionally, the Georgia Press Association's Abbreviated Guide to Georgia's Open Meetings and Open Records Laws provides commentary on how to request records and also sets out a sample letter to use as a guide.
An agency must grant or deny your request within three working days. If the agency requires time to arrange the records for inspection, they must respond within that period with a description of the documents and a timetable for inspection and copying. Ga. Code Ann. § 50-18-70(f).
If your request is routine, like requesting to view a zoning map, you should not be charged a search. However, if your request involves unusual cost or burden to the agency, it is entitled to charge a reasonable fee for the search, retrieval and other direct administrative costs incurred complying with your request. Agencies can charge up to 25 cents per page for duplication (unless a higher charge is specifically authorized by other legislation), or the cost of any disks or other electronic media used to transfer the information to you. Ga. Code Ann. § 50-18-71.
What Are Your Remedies in Georgia
If your request is denied, make sure the agency has put the denial in writing, setting out the legal basis upon which they claim the denial is justified. From here, you have several options:
- ask the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute that person for a misdemeanor under the Act if you believe that a person has knowingly and willfully violated the OPA by refusing to provide access to non-exempt records; or
- file a lawsuit in a local superior court to enforce compliance.
If you wish to file a lawsuit to enforce compliance with your request, refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the agency.