Legal Hotline: RTKL-Enhanced Electronic Access

Legal Hotline: RTKL-Enhanced Electronic Access

PNA Legal Hotline

Q: An agency makes some of its public records available online through a vendor, but the vendor charges fees well above the $.25 per page copy fee and only accepts certain credit cards for payment. Also, the RTKL Officer told me I must use the vendor’s website instead of filing a formal, written RTKL request. Is that OK?

A: The agency is required by law to respond to formal, written RTKL requests and cannot rely solely on a website to provide public access. Additionally, an agency’s vendor fee structure for providing enhanced electronic access is only permissible if the agency obtained approval from the Office of Open Records pursuant to Section 1307(e) of the Right to Know Law.

Enhanced electronic access to public records can be a great tool for investigative journalists because it removes administrative barriers and delays that can be common in the RTKL process. It also saves public resources by removing public employees from most of the process. Enhanced electronic access, however, cannot take the place of RTKL compliance and any fees charged for such services must be approved in accordance with the law.

Section 1307(e) of the Right to Know Law states:

  1. e) Enhanced electronic access.–If an agency offers enhanced electronic access to records in addition to making the records accessible for inspection and duplication by a requester as required by this act, the agency may establish user fees specifically for the provision of the enhanced electronic access, but only to the extent that the enhanced electronic access is in addition to making the records accessible for inspection and duplication by a requester as required by this act. The user fees for enhanced electronic access may be a flat rate, a subscription fee for a period of time, a per-transaction fee, a fee based on the cumulative time of system access or any other reasonable method and any combination thereof. The user fees for enhanced electronic access must be reasonable, must be approved by the Office of Open Records and may not be established with the intent or effect of excluding persons from access to records or duplicates thereof or of creating profit for the agency.

This provision allows agencies to provide enhanced electronic access to records in addition to inspection and copying required under the typical RTKL access process. Section 1307(e) does not permit agencies to rely solely on a website to provide public access to records. Moreover, if an agency chooses to provide enhanced electronic access, the law requires that any fees associated with such access must be reasonable and cannot have the intent or effect of decreasing public access or making a profit for the agency. Finally, all enhanced electronic access fees must be approved by the Office of Open Records prior to implementation.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please contact the PNA Legal Hotline with questions at (717) 703-3080.