Q&A: ID not needed to see public records


From a citizen interested in Allen County, Indiana:

Q: The Allen County Sheriff’s office said I have to produce identification “to confirm my identity” to access public records. I asked the Allen County Sheriff’s attorney, J. Spencer Feighner, what the statute is that requires a photo ID to access a public record and the statute that requires a requester of record to confirm their identity, both of which have been required by this law enforcement agency.

A reporter has viewed the records I want to see on a computer screen at the Allen County Sheriff’s Office; therefore the records are not confidential. I’ve asked to be provided copies of public records via email. Feighner asserts that requests to review records are typically made in person. 

A: There is no language in the state’s Access to Public Records Act that requires one to produce a photo ID to obtain records.

There is also no language in law that requires a requester to give his or her identity, let alone confirm it.

However, the sheriff’s department is not required by law to email you records.

Current law gives the public agency the control over the format that the record is made available. So even if the record requested is an Excel spreadsheet that could easily be emailed to you, they can require you to physically come to their office and pick up a paper copy of the spreadsheet.

Some provisions available to the police department can force you to make an appearance before them to obtain records.

The sheriff’s department, or any public agency, can require one to put a records request in writing on a form that they create. That form can reasonably request your name and a contact point (email or phone) so that they can contact you when the records are available for you to pick up.

You’re not required to fill in that part of the form and can let them know you’ll check back with them in a couple of days or week to see whether the records are available.

If your records request is extensive, the sheriff’s department can estimate the cost for copying the records and require that you pay that estimate in advance.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.