You don't have to be a lawyer to get public records from government agencies, but it helps to know a little about the law. Here's a brief guide to requesting data.
What law should I cite when requesting data?
If you want records from schools, cities, counties and state agencies in Minnesota, they are governed by the Minnesota Data Practices Act (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13). The Freedom of Information Act covers federal agencies.
What can I get?
The law allows you to see most government data about yourself, such as school transcripts and health records. You can also get public data, including property records, police incident and arrest reports, and salaries of government employees.
How do I ask for data?
Ask the agency for the name of their “responsible authority,” and then direct your data request to that person. The request does not have to be in writing, but you’ll get better results if you send an e-mail or write a letter.
Do I have to say why I want the data?
How much will it cost to get records?
You have the right to inspect records free. Viewing the records usually involves going to a government office and looking at the information on a computer or paper records. If you want copies, you may have to pay the cost of retrieving the information. If the data are fewer than 100 pages, they can only charge you 25 cents per page for copies. They cannot charge you for redacting nonpublic information.
How long will it take?
State law has no time limit for a response. The response must be “prompt” and in a “reasonable time.” If you’re requesting data on yourself the agency must comply within 10 days.