Note: This page covers information specific to Indiana. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of Indiana’s public records using the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA). See title 4, article 14, section 3 of the Indiana Code, (Ind. Code). You do not have to tell the records-keeper why you are seeking the information, as you cannot be denied a request because of your reasons for wanting the information.
What Records Are Covered in Indiana
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You are entitled to inspect and copy records of "public agencies" under the APRA. The term "public agency" is defined broadly and includes townships, cities, schools, law enforcement agencies, and any boards, commissions, agencies, or offices that exercises administrative, judicial, or legislative power. The act also includes any entity that uses public funds or is subject to audit review by the state board of accounts. Because the list is so expansive, chances are good that most state entities fall within the act. For a full list of all entities that are covered, see Ind. Code § 5-14-3-2(l). Note that Access to Government Meetings in Indiana and Indiana State Court Records have more information on how to access records from those government entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You can inspect all "public records" of Indiana’s public agencies. The term "public record" refers to any writing, paper, report, study, map, photograph, book, card, tape recording, or other material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency. See Ind. Code § 5-14-3-2(m). Because the definition of "public record" is so broad, you should have access to nearly any document or recording that a public agency has in its possession, unless the records fall under an exemption.
A public agency will refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- Records declared confidential by state statute
- Records declared confidential by rule adopted by a public agency that has authority to declare public records confidential
- Records that federal law requires be kept confidential
- Trade secrets
- Confidential financial information obtained by a person upon request.
- Information concerning research conducted under the auspices of a state educational institution
- Grade transcripts and license exam scores
- Records declared confidential by the Indiana Supreme Court
- Patient medical records and charts, unless the patient has provided written consent to disclosure
- Application information declared confidential
- Photographs or video/audio recordings of autopsies
- Social Security numbers contained within records
A public agency has the discretion to refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- Investigatory records of law enforcement agencies
- The work product of an attorney employed or appointed by a public agency
- Test questions, scoring keys, or other exam data used in licensing exams before the test is given or if it is to be given again at a later time
- Test scores identifying the person's name, unless he or she has consented
- Certain records related to negotiations if negotiations are in progress
- Advisory or deliberative materials that express opinions and are used for decision-making
- Diaries, journals, or personal notes
- Certain information pertaining to public employees' files or applications
- Minutes or records of hospital staff meetings
- Information that would jeopardize a record-keeping or security sytem
- Computer programs, codes, filing systems, or software that are owned by a public agency
- Records specifically prepared for discussion during an executive session
- The work product of the legislative services agency under personnel rules
- The work product of members and staffs of the general assembly
- The identity of the donor of a gift made to a public agency if the donor requests nondisclosure
- Library records which could be used to identify a library patron
- The identity of any person who contacts the bureau of motor vehicles concerning the ability of a driver to operate a motor vehicle safely
- The medical records and evaluations regarding the ability of a driver to operate a motor vehicle safely.
- School safety and security plans and systems, including emergency preparedness plans
- A record which, if disclosed, would threaten public safety by exposing a vulnerability to a terrorist attack
- Personal information concerning a customer of a municipally owned utilty
- Certain personal information about a complainant contained in law enforcement records
For more information about the exemptions as they appear in the statute, refer to Ind. Code §§ 5-14-3-4(a)(1)-(11) and Ind. Code §§ 5-14-3-4(b)(1)-(20). Additionally, consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Open Government Guide: Indiana to better understand the exemptions under the Indiana APRA.
How to Request Records in Indiana
You can generally request the record via telephone, mail, or in person at the public agency's office. Be sure to describe the record as specifically as possible so the record-keeper can identify the particular record that you are seeking. Some agencies may require that all requests be written, and some public agencies have specific request forms that you may have to fill out. If you don't know which public agency to contact, the Office of the Public Access Counselor suggests that you contact your local library or the State Information Center for help.
The public agency must respond to your request within 24 hours if you made the request in person or via telephone. If you mailed or faxed your request, the agency must respond within seven calendar days. The agency's response may simply acknowledge your request or may inform you how and when it intends to produce the records. However, the APRA does not specify a timeframe in which the agency must produce the records once it has received your request. Public agencies must only produce the records in a reasonable period of time.
Once the public agency produces the records, you may either inspect them or have them copied. Agencies cannot charge you if you only want to inspect the records, but they may charge copying fees. State agencies may charge up to $.10 per page, and all other agencies may only charge the actual costs of copying. Agencies cannot charge fees for labor, overhead costs, searching, or review. Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require a records-keeper to create a record in response to your request.
What Are Your Remedies
If your request is denied, the agency must give you its legal basis for the denial. If you disagree with this response, you should contact the Office of the Public Access Counselor. You can contact the Office informally, or you can file a formal complaint. The Public Access Counselor will provide written advisory opinions in response to formal complaints.
If your request is still denied, you may ultimately file a civil lawsuit in the circuit or superior court of the county in which the denial was made. In such a lawsuit, the agency has the burden of proof, meaning that the agency must prove that it properly denied access to the record. 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 public agency.