Oregon Freedom of Information Act
What is the Oregon Freedom of Information Act?
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) keeps the public aware of government activities by granting individuals the right to access all government records, except those subject to privacy rights. Oregon’s FOIA is called the Public Records Law and is contained between Section 192.410 and Section 192.505 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. The law was originally enacted in 1973, and several amendments were made to it, increasing the amount of information exempt from public disclosure. For example, Senate Bill 481 amended the Public Records Law in 2017 and required agencies to acknowledge receiving record requests within 5 days and respond to them without delay.
What is Covered Under the Oregon Freedom of Information Act?
Under the Oregon Public Records Law, the public has the right to inspect and copy government records maintained by public agencies. Per Section 192.410(4)(a) of the Oregon Revised Statutes, records containing information about the conduct of public affairs and records maintained, prepared, owned, or used by public entities are subject to public access. The Public Records Law applies to public bodies like county and city governing bodies, municipal corporations, state agencies, police, and fire departments. The kinds of records accessible by the public include written documents, letters, photographs, maps, and facsimiles.
Electronic records covered under the Public Records Law include audio and video recordings, emails, photographs, and documents in Excel, Word, and PDF formats. However, records on privately-owned computers are not subject to the Public Records Law. The provisions of Section 192.005(5)(b)(F) of the Oregon Revised Statutes stipulate that public agencies are not required to retain telephone voicemails for the public. Nevertheless, if a voicemail is still available when a request is made, the public agency must retain it until the request is fulfilled.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Oregon?
Some public records are exempt from the Oregon Public Records Law to protect lives and property and prevent privacy invasion. Under the Oregon Public Records Law, some records are conditionally exempt from disclosure and are only accessible when public interest is involved, while others are unconditionally exempt from public disclosure. According to the provisions of Section 192.501 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, the following public records are conditionally exempt from public disclosure:
- Trade secrets such as plans, tools, production data, and non-patented information known only to specific persons in an organization, which gives a business advantage over its competitors
- Records about litigation where a public agency is a party
- Specific criminal investigation records, excluding arrest records like an arrestee’s name and age, offense, the circumstance of arrest, and name of the arresting agency
- Data used to administer a licensing examination before the examination is given, such as test questions and scoring keys
- Records such as production, sale, and purchase records submitted to government bodies by private enterprises to determine the fees they are obligated to pay
- Records about real estate appraisals before their acquisition
- The signatures and names of employees who sign petitions or authorization cards to request representation or an election decertification
- Investigatory information about unlawful discrimination in employment, filed with the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) in line with the provisions of Section 659A.820 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. Such information can only be made public when a final order is issued according to Section 659.850 or resolved under Section 659A.835
- Investigations about unfair labor practice complaints filed under Section 243.676 and Section 663.180 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Records compiled by the director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) under Section 697.732 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Documents about employee disciplinary measures
- Details about the location of archeological objects or places as provided in Section 358.905 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, unless requested by an Indian tribe governing body
- Details about a computer program purchased or developed by a public agency for its use
- Information about the population or location of an endangered species, compiled in line with the provisions of Section 496.004, 496.172, 498.026, or 496.192 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Information about an anticipated threat to lives or property, if public disclosure will jeopardize law enforcement activities or endanger a person’s life or safety
- Audit reports and financial statements of a telecommunications carrier as stipulated in Section 759.390 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Information such as credit reports, project appraisals, commitment letters, articles of incorporation, and housing assistant payment requests, submitted by loan applicants to a housing authority or urban renewal agency
- Records that would disclose the security measure of an individual, building, or other property
- Personal details of an individual donating property or money to the Oregon University System, including their address and phone number
- Security operations of the Oregon State Lottery, subject to Section 461.180 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Information that would disclose a person’s social security number according to Section 107.840 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Information used by public agencies to authenticate fund transfers, including payment card expiration dates, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, and bank routing numbers
- Records that would disclose the address of a person providing goods or services for medical research conducted using animals, apart from rodents, at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)
The following public records are unconditionally exempt from public disclosure under Section 192.502 of the Oregon Revised Statutes:
- Personal medical records which, if disclosed, would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy
- The personal information of a public agency’s employees or volunteers, including their social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and phone numbers
- Confidential information voluntarily submitted to a public agency
- Specific records of the Oregon Department of Corrections, such as post-prison supervision, which would interfere with a person’s rehabilitation if disclosed
- Reports filed with a court under Section 137.530 and Section 137.077 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Public records that are prohibited from disclosure under federal law
- Monthly reports about the industrial accident fund and the public employees’ retirement fund, submitted under Section 293.761 and Section 293.766 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Reports about unclaimed property filed by the persons in possession of such property under Section 98.352 of the Oregon Revised Statutes
- Personal financial statements, submitted by loan or grant applicants to the Oregon Business Development Department, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), or the Oregon Growth Account (OGA) board
How Do I File an Oregon Freedom of Information Act Request?
The Oregon Public Records Law permits individuals to request public records from the agencies maintaining them. The provisions of Section 192.430 of the Oregon Statutes require the custodians of public records to make them available for public inspection and copying during regular working hours. Per Section 192.324(2) of the Oregon Revised Statutes, a person interested in accessing public records must file a written request with the relevant agency. Most agencies provide instructions for public record requests on their websites and require requesters to complete and submit forms online, in person, or by mail.
For instance, the Office of the Oregon Secretary of State (SOS) allows applicants to make public records requests online. Requesters can make further inquiries by contacting the SOS by email at CorporationDivision.SOS@sos.oregon.gov. Also, a person can access public records in the custody of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) by completing an ODE Public Records Request Form or a downloadable Public Records Request Form and sending it via mail to:
Oregon Department of Education
255 Capitol Street, North East
Salem, OR 97310
A requester can call the Oregon Department of Education at 1 (503) 5600-947 to make further inquiries about public record requests.
In addition, an applicant can access public records maintained by the Oregon Department of Agriculture by completing a Request for Public Records Form and sending it by:
Fax: (503) 986-4750
Oregon Department of Agriculture
635 Capitol Street, North East
Salem, OR 97301-2532
For any other public record, an applicant can check the Oregon government website to get the address and contact information of the public agency in charge of the records and send a written request.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Oregon?
The provisions of Section 192.324(4)(a) of the Oregon Revised Statutes authorize public agencies to charge fees to cover the cost of making public records accessible. A public agency can charge attorney fees to cover the cost of separating exempt records from non-exempt records. Nevertheless, Section 192.324(4)(c) of the Oregon Revised Statutes prohibits public agencies from charging over $25 for a public record request without notifying a requester about the amount in writing and receiving a confirmation. If a requested record benefits the public, the custodian may waive the required fee or reduce its amount.
The Office of the Oregon Secretary of State (SOS) charges 25 cents per page for the first 20 pages of black and white physical copies of public records and 15 cents per page subsequently. For colored copies, the SOS charges 70 cents per page of the initial 20 pages and 6 cents for each subsequent page. The Department of Transportation (DOT) does not charge for the first 30 minutes of staff time spent searching for public records. From the 31st minute, the DOT charges $25 per hour for clerical-level staff, $40 per hour for managerial-level staff, and $75 per hour for professional-level staff. The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) charges record searching fees ranging between $39 per hour and $143 per hour, depending on the level of the staff searching for the requested record.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Oregon?
The provisions of Section 192.324(2) of the Oregon Revised Statute require public agencies to acknowledge public record requests within five business days after getting them. The deadline for a public agency to fulfill a request or inform a requester that they are still processing their request is 10 business days. Some record requests take longer than others, depending on the volume of records requested or the complexity of the request. Per Section 192.329(5) of the Oregon Revised Statutes, if an agency fails to respond within the stipulated time, a requester may petition the Oregon Attorney General by completing a Petition for Public Records Order Form and submitting online.