Minnesota Freedom of Information Act
What is the Minnesota Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is legislation that ensures members of the public are guaranteed total or partial access to public records and documents of government agencies. The FOIA was initially enacted at the federal level in 1967 but was subsequently enacted by states and local municipalities. Records covered by the FOIA can be requested by anyone and the requester is not required to provide a statement of purpose before receiving the records.
Technically, Minnesota does not have a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but it does have an Open Records Law. The law governing the release of public records in Minnesota is referred to as the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). Enacted in 1974, the Government Data Practices Act sought to increase the transparency of the workings of government agencies without compromising individual privacy concerns. The MGDPA creates a premise that the government data is available to the general public unless otherwise established by a statute, law, or rule. With the exception of specified documents, the law regards all documents from public agencies to be government data. This includes information that is written, printed, digitized, recorded on tape or microfilm collected, maintained, or disseminated by government entities, regardless of form or storage media.
Minnesota also has an Open Meetings Law that legislates the access of the general public to the meetings of public bodies and agencies in the state.
What is Covered Under the Minnesota Freedom of Information Act?
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) establishes the following premise:
"All government data is public and accessible to the public for both inspection and copying unless there is federal law, a state statute, or a temporary classification of data that provides that certain data are not public". Government data (public records) refers to information collected, maintained, or disseminated by a government entity, irrespective of the physical use, form, or storage media of the data. A government entity is a state agency, university, state college, political subdivision, or statewide system, according to the MGDPA.
The Minnesota Open Meeting Law precedes the MGDPA and was originally enacted in 1957 by the Minnesota Legislature. The law was passed with the explicit intentions of;
- Protecting the rights of the public to be informed
- Ensuring due consultations with all stakeholders before public decisions are made
- Ensuring the views of the public are presented
The law regulates the conduct of public meetings in Minnesota and dictates that all public meetings be open to the general public. A public meeting is the gathering of a quorum or more of officials of a public agency to conduct business in the interest of the general public. A public agency is any state agency, board, commission, department, permitted or required to conduct public business by Minnesota law.
There are meetings of public officials which are exempted from the provisions of the Open Meetings Law, due to privacy or security concerns. Such exemptions include:
- Personal matters
- Labor negotiations
- Market strategy meetings
- Attorney consultations
- Internal affairs meetings (law enforcement)
- Medical and patient data
- Criminal investigations
- Social security and welfare data
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Minnesota?
Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), there are 5 classifications of data. These are general rule data, private data, confidential data, non-public data, and protected (non-public) data.
General rule data is the data of an individual, business, or other entity. This data is considered public data and is accessible to the general public, upon creation and receipt of the data.
Private data is the data of an individual. This data is typically only available to the subject of the data but becomes available to a third party with consent from the subject. Private data becomes available to the public 30 years after the creation of the data or 10 years after the death of the subject.
Confidential data is the data of an individual or government entity. This type of data is only available to the government entity and persons authorized by law or statutes. Confidential data becomes public 30 years after the creation of data or 10 years after the death of the subject of the data.
Non-public data is the data of a business or other entity. This data is typically available only to the business or entity that is the subject of the data. The data is available to third parties immediately with the consent of the business or entity or 30 years after its creation.
Protected (non-public) data is the data of a business or other entity and is only available to government entities and persons authorized by law. The data becomes accessible to the public 10 years after its creation unless it is deemed to not be in the public's interest.
The Minnesota Legislature is not subject to the provisions of the MGDPA, but individual legislators are subject to the provisions concerning candidates and elected officials. Data for the judicial branch of government is subject to the Minnesota Supreme Court rules on public access to records of the judicial branch.
How Do I File a Minnesota Freedom of Information Act Request?
All public agencies and departments in Minnesota are required to designate official record custodians to manage requests under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). Anyone may request public data in Minnesota, regardless of their citizenship and there are no requirements to provide a reason for requesting the data. Persons making data requests in Minnesota are also entitled to have the data explained to them if they do not understand it. To request records under the MGDPA, identify the office of the agency that retains the records and submit a request to the custodian of official records. Agencies and Departments in the state tend to have different procedures and requirements for responding to MGDPA requests.
To inspect data or request copies of data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), submit a request to the Data Practices Unit online, using the MGDPA web form, or by email. Requesters can also submit data requests by submitting a written letter to the Data Practices Coordinator:
Data Practices coordinator
395 John Ireland Boulevard
Mail Stop 140
St. Paul, MN 55155-1899
Public data requests to the University of Minnesota must be submitted online through the data request center. All public data requests will be acknowledged and processed via the request center online portal and requesters will receive notifications of the progress of their requests. For answers to any questions about the data request process under the MGDPA, requesters can contact:
University News Service Relations
3 Morrill Hall,
100 Church Street S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Minnesota?
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) allows for fees to be charged for public data requests that require the copying of records. The agency that receives the request is also able to include labor costs for the record search and costs for copying the record. For records requested in electronic format or as electronic copies, the agency may require the requester to pay the costs of providing the copy. The MGDPA allows the agency releasing the records to charge additional fees if the records are to be used for commercial purposes by the requester. There are no fees charged for solely inspecting records requested under the Act. This includes viewing, downloading, and printing data stored in electronic formats and accessible on a remote basis.
Minnesota statutes explicitly state that agencies providing data under the MGDPA may charge no more than 25 cents per page for copies of records. This is provided the data requested contains no more than 100 pages. Data requests for records with more than 100 pages may be charged at the discretion of the agency.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Minnesota?
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) prescribes timelines for responses to data requests based on certain criteria; these being:
Requests by the data subject - If immediate compliance is not possible, the agency must respond to the requester within 10 business days.
Requests by third parties - the agency is required to respond in a prompt and appropriate manner. While the agency is required to provide a prompt response, the actual timeline will depend on the volume of the records and complexity of the search. Typically, this may take between 2 - 3 weeks.
Requests for copies of records and summary data will be acknowledged by the agency and the estimated costs and an agreement for reimbursement will be concluded. If the records are not available within 10 business days, a time schedule will be provided for receipt of the records, along with reasons for the delay.
Persons who have their data requests under the MGDPA denied by the custodian agency can appeal the decisions to the Commissioner of Administration. Appeals can also be filed with the Courts. There is a two-year window from the date of denial, within which appellants must submit their appeals.
For further assistance, information, and advice on data practices and open meetings in Minnesota, contact the Data Practices Office.