Alaska Freedom of Information Act
What is the Alaska Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOA) is a law that allows the public to access all government records on request, except those that are exempt from public disclosure. It ensures transparency and accountability in governance. Alaska’s FOIA, the Alaska Public Records Act, is contained between Section 40.25.110 and Section 40.25.125 of the Alaska Statutes. It was initially enacted in 1900 by the United States Congress for the territorial District of Alaska.
The Alaska Public Records Act was amended in 1957 to exempt medical and juvenile records from public disclosure. After Alaska became a state, the state’s public record statutes were repealed and re-enacted in 1962. The 1990 amendment of the Alaska Public Records Act made electronic records accessible to the public.
What is Covered Under the Alaska Freedom of Information Act?
The Alaska Public Records Act requires that public records maintained by all public agencies in the state be made available on request for public inspection during regular working hours. Section 40.25.120(b) of the Alaska Statutes permits public access to Alaska public records except those exempted in Section 40.25.120(a).
A person can access court records, criminal records, census data, property information, bankruptcy rulings, tax liens, and judgments under the Alaska Public Records Act. Other records available under this Act are unpublished policy statements and staff manuals that affect the general public. The provisions of Section 40.25.120(c) of the Alaska Statutes require custodians of Alaska public records to provide copies of the records on request. Under Section 40.25.115, the public can also request electronic copies of public records for a fee.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Alaska?
Some records are exempt from public disclosure under the Alaska Public Records Act to protect lives and property, prevent privacy invasion, and avoid interference with law enforcement investigations. According to Section 40.25.120(a) of the Alaska Statutes, the following records are exempt from public access:
- Vital statistics
- Medical and public health records
- Juvenile records
- Records compiled for law enforcement if they could:
- Interfere with law enforcement investigations
- Result in an invasion of privacy of a witness, victim, suspect, or defendant
- Deprive a person of a fair trial
- Reveal confidential techniques for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions
- Disclose the identity of a confidential informant
- Result in a suspect evading the law
- Endanger a person’s life or safety
- Identifying information such as names and addresses of participants of the Alaska higher education savings trust or the college tuition savings program under Section 14.40.802 or Section 14.40.803 of the Alaska Statutes
- Reports about boat accidents, collisions, or other casualties as provided in Section 05.25.030 of the Alaska Statutes
- Records that could disclose a person’s electronic signature
- Proprietary records or records regarded as trade secrets under Section 43.90.150 or Section 43.90.220(e) of the Alaska Statutes
- Records of applications made under Section 43.90 of the Alaska Statutes (Alaska Gasline Inducement Act); such records can only be made public after a notice is published as provided in Section 43.90.160
- Records containing confidential information of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation as stipulated in Section 31.25.010 of the Alaska Statutes
- Confidential information about North Slope natural gas project contracts under Section 38.05.020(b)(11) of the Alaska Statutes, subject to the provisions of Section 38.05.020(b)(12)
- Records containing the procedures, programs, or plans for state security, if they could:
- Interfere with the implementation of a security architecture frameworks, program, or plan
- Reveal a confidential protocol for an investigation or enforcement, and result in a suspect evading the law
- Endanger public health and welfare or person’s life
- Identifying information such as names and addresses of Alaska savings program participants as provided in Section 06.65 of the Alaska Statutes
- Records under the Alaska Medical Assistance False Claim and Reporting Act as provided in Section 09.58 of the Alaska Statutes
- Investigative files under Section 45.55.910 of the Alaska Statutes and confidential records under Section 45.56.620
- Artists’ submissions made to the Alaska State Council on the Arts under Section 44.27.060 of the Alaska Statutes
How Do I File an Alaska Freedom of Information Act Request?
According to Section 2.96.305 of the Alaska Administrative Code, a person can file a public record request at the nearest office of the relevant public agency. The Alaska State Legislature maintains a Directory of State Officials on its website. Per Section 2.96.310 of the Alaska Administrative Code, public records requests can be made in any of the following ways:
- Writing: The public agency maintaining the record a person needs will provide a record request application form to the requester who must appear in person. If the record description provided by the requester is insufficient to enable the public agency to identify the record, the agency will notify the requester within ten days.
- Orally: A requester can visit the relevant public agency and make a verbal request. However, the agency may advise them to complete an application form at the office.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Alaska?
The Alaska Public Records Act requires any person requesting a public record to pay the cost of copying the document, which must not exceed the agency’s standard amount for duplication. If the time needed to produce a requester’s records exceeds five hours, the requester must pay an amount that covers the hours spent searching and copying the record.
Some public agencies in Alaska advise requesters of the costs associated with public record requests once filed. For instance, the Alaska Division of Retirements and Benefits charges $0.25 per page of a record. Similarly, the Alaska Division of Insurance charges $0.25 per page of paper records. Other public agencies provide estimated costs of copying public records online. For example, the Division of Corporations, Businesses, and Professional License (CBPL) provides cost estimates for public records requests after a person completes and submits the request form.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Alaska?
Per Section 2.96.325 of the Alaska Administrative Code, public agencies must respond to public record requests made in writing within ten days. Verbal requests take five working days. According to Section 2.96.325(d) of the Alaska Administrative Code, processing FOIA requests may take a longer time if:
- There is a need to search and retrieve the records from a separate field office that maintains them
- A public agency’s employees must search voluminous records to meet such record requests
- There is a need to seek legal advice to ensure that requested records do not violate other people’s privacy
- There is a need to consult with an employee who is on approved leave or absent on official business
- The request comes during a peak workload period
According to Section 2.96.310, the only option for a verbal requester who did not receive a response from a public agency is to file a written request. There is no provision in the Alaska Public Records Act that enforces a requester’s right to access public records. However, if a public agency does not respond within the stipulated time, the requester can appeal their request. If their appeal is denied, they can file a lawsuit to challenge the agency for denying them access to the requested record.