What is a “public record”?

Every record that is made or received by a government entity or employee is presumed to be a public record unless a specific statutory exemption permits or requires it to be withheld in whole or in part.

Specific statutory exemptions have been created by the legislature. There are non-statutory exemptions as well called common law exemptions. Non-statutory exemptions include the common law attorney-client privilege and the work-product privilege. These exemptions permit the agency or municipality to withhold a record from the public. A records access officer (RAO) must prove with specificity why it should be allowed to withhold any public record.

The exemptions to the Public Records Law are described in this guide. If an RAO claims an exemption and withholds a record, the RAO has the burden of showing how the exemption applies to the record and why it should be withheld.

Show All Answers

1. What is the difference between the federal Freedom of Information Act and the Massachusetts Public Records Law?
2. Who can help me with questions regarding the Public Records Law?
3. What is a “public record”?
4. How do I find the records I seek?
5. Does the Division of Public Records have my records?
6. Does the Public Records Law apply to court, legislative or federal records?
7. What is a Records Access Officer?
8. What is a records custodian?
9. How do I obtain copies of public records?
10. What do I do if my request is denied?
11. May I also go to court to seek public records?
12. My appeal was closed because I did not provide the necessary information. What do I do now?
13. What are the requirements for an RAO response to a public records request?
14. Does my request need to be in writing, and do I need to use a specific form?
15. May I appeal a failure to answer a question?
16. What is the cost for copies of public records; what about electronic records?
17. Is an RAO required to provide a fee estimate?
18. May the RAO charge a fee for search and segregation of records?
19. When must minutes of an open meeting be made available to the public?
20. Does a requester have greater right of access to records if he is the subject of a record?
21. Is a requester required to disclose the intended use of the public record requested?
22. How should an RAO respond to an unclear request?
23. What if a records custodian claims that it is not subject to the Public Records Law?
24. Are RAOs required to forward a request for records not in their possession?