Attorney General advisory opinion: public bodies may not restrict APRA requests to methods that are not readily accessible to public

Public bodies cannot only accept requests via fax – use of email/digital tech encouraged


PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha today issued an advisory opinion concerning the methods by which a public body may accept Access to Public Records Requests (APRA) from members of the public.


The APRA is Rhode Island’s statutory framework to ensure the public’s right to assess public records. The APRA expressly requires that public bodies establish written procedures, which must include how and where to make a public records request.


In today’s advisory opinion, the Attorney General observes that the unmistakable intent of these provisions is to ensure that the public is readily able to submit requests for public records, and that the purpose of the APRA would be circumvented if the means of submitting requests were not readily accessible to the public.


The advisory opinion puts public bodies on notice that the APRA requires public bodies to ensure that members of the public may readily make APRA requests without undue burden, delay, or cost. If a public body’s APRA procedures only provide for the submission of records requests through methods that are not readily accessible to members of the public, those procedures violate the APRA. For instance, only accepting records requests via fax would violate the APRA. Moreover, in the year 2023, when the use of digital technology including email is prolific and pervasive, there is no reason for public bodies to not provide in their procedures that they will accept APRA requests submitted by email and/or electronic portal.


The advisory opinion makes clear that the use of email and/or an electronic portal to accept records requests eliminates unnecessary delay and increases the accessibility of the APRA process, and public bodies in Rhode Island should take measures to ensure that their APRA procedures include either or both as an option for submitting APRA requests.


Use of email and/or an electronic portal to accept records requests conforms with the purpose of the APRA and promotes the important principles behind the APRA, including increased transparency and government accountability.


Annual Open Government Summit

The Attorney General’s annual Open Government Summit is scheduled for July 28, 2023. Once again the event is presented in partnership with the
Roger Williams University School of Law Alumni Association and ClerkBase. Additional event details will be shared at a later date.