Frequently Asked Questions
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 disclosable 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.
What is a public record?
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.
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.