What is the Public Information Act?
- Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) gives the public the right to access government records without unnecessary cost and delay.
- The PIA applies to all three branches of Maryland state government as well as local government entities. The PIA is found in the General Provisions Title 4. Public Information Act Subtitle 2 Inspection of Public Records.
- It is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act which applies to federal executive branch agencies and independent federal regulatory agencies.
- The PIA grants you the right to review the available records that are dis-closable and to obtain copies of those records. It does not require an agency to answer informational questions or to create a record to satisfy your request.
A public record is defined as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form created or received by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business. Included in this definition are written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, firms, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps, drawings and other materials.
Are all government records available?
No. The PIA attempts to balance the public’s right to access government records with other policies that respect the privacy or confidentiality of certain information.
For example, some public records are confidential under federal or state statutes, under court rules, or under various common law privileges such as attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. SG §10-615. The PIA itself also protects certain records from disclosure (for example, firearm records, criminal history, personnel records, and certain personal information in Motor Vehicle Administration records). In addition, some information contained in public records must remain confidential (for example, an individual’s medical information, confidential commercial information and trade secrets). SG §10-616, 10-617. In some cases, these protections may be waived.
Other records may be withheld if the agency decides that disclosure of those records would be “contrary to the public interest.” Examples of records subject to discretionary disclosure include investigatory records, information related to academic, licensing, and employment examinations, and documents of a pre-decisional and deliberative nature. SG §10-618.
Do I have a right to obtain a record about me even if it is otherwise confidential under the PIA?
In some cases yes, the PIA grants a “person in interest” a right to access some records that are otherwise not available to the public under the PIA. A person in interest is usually the person who is the subject of the record.
How long will it take for an agency to respond to my request?
A notice must be provided in writing or by email within ten working days of receipt of the request. The notice must tell the applicant how much time it will take to produce the record, the reason for the delay, and an “estimate of the range of fees” that might be involved in producing the record.
What happens if my request for records is denied?
If an agency denies all or part of your request, it must provide you with a written explanation that includes the reason for the denial, the legal authority justifying the denial, and your appeal rights.
Is there a charge for obtaining records under the PIA?
Yes, the PIA allows an agency to charge a “reasonable fee” for copies of public records. An agency may also charge a reasonable fee for searching for a public record – a charge that may include the time required for locating and reviewing the record. The first two hours of search time are free, but an extensive search may prove time-consuming and therefore expensive. Thus, it is in both your interest and the agency’s interest to ensure that a PIA request clearly and accurately describes the records sought. Actual fee schedules may be found in agency regulations. Agencies may choose to waive fees in particular cases. A fee Schedule can be located under COMAR 29.01.02.13.
How can I learn more about the PIA?
The Office of the Attorney General publishes a detailed legal analysis of the PIA in the Maryland Public Information Act Manual. The Manual also includes the text of the PIA and a sample request letter to help you make a PIA request. The Manual is available for purchase for $10 by sending a check to the Office of Attorney General, Opinions and Advice Division, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. The manual is also available without charge on the Attorney General’s website,
I submit a PIA request?