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An Overview of Alabama Access Laws
Alabama Archives

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Alabama law requires all state and local government officials to "correctly make and accurately keep" records that document the business carried out in their offices. Officials must also protect their records from mutilation, loss, or destruction (Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-2). In addition, government officials have a duty to provide access to these records (Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-40). Uncertainty about these sometimes conflicting responsibilities and about records that may be restricted from public view makes officials' duty to provide access to records a source of concern. Knowledge of government records laws and established office procedures for access to records can simplify the process of providing access. This document is intended to assist state and local officials in creating access policies and procedures for their agencies. It provides guidance only, however, and is not intended to serve as the final arbiter on legal questions concerning government records and access issues.

All records created by public agencies to document the business of their office are government records. The Alabama public records law applies to records in all storage formats, including paper, microfilm, photographs, film, videotapes, audiotapes, and electronic media. Not all government records, however, are open to public scrutiny. The Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-40, states that citizens may inspect and take a copy of any public writing of the state, unless access to it is expressly forbidden by statute. Some examples of records restricted by statute are records of ongoing criminal investigations, library circulation records, juvenile court records, probation reports, tax returns and financial statements, and records of suspected cases of certain diseases.

The incomplete guidance regarding records access in the Code has been given some clarification by the Alabama courts and by Attorney General's opinions. A recent publication of the Office of Attorney General and the Alabama Press Association, Alabama Public Meetings and Records: A Manual for Alabama Public Officials (June 2000) provides guidance based on court cases and Attorney General's opinions on the issue of access to government records. Copies of the publication may be obtained from the Alabama Press Association website at Public officials should not make decisions restricting access that cannot be supported by sound legal authority. Any questions regarding whether or not a particular public record of the agency is restricted should be referred to the agency's attorney in the case of a state agency or to the county or municipal attorney in the case of a local agency. In some cases, agencies will have to remove or redact certain identifying personal information such as Social Security numbers from records before they can be provided to the public.

Public officials should also be aware that Alabama has no privacy act. The Federal Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 522a, applies to records kept by state or local agencies under contract with federal agencies. The U.S. Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C., only applies to records maintained by federal agencies of the executive branch of the government. Records access in Alabama is governed by the laws cited above in the opening paragraph.

Creating a Written Agency Access Policy

One important component of an agency's policies and procedures manual is a written policy regarding access to public records. Such a policy guides staff members in handling requests for government records; if the policy is posted in the office, it will inform the public as well. An access policy does not have to be a complicated document; in fact, it should be kept as simple as possible. The agency should ensure that all employees who deal with the public understand the policy. An agency's access policy should also be included in its Administrative Code sections or policies and procedures manual.

A state or local government agency access policy should cover the following issues:

The procedures should also include information about how copies may be requested from the agency, i.e., in person only, by letter, fax, telephone or e-mail. There has been no court ruling requiring that agencies provide copies via mail, fax, or e-mail, if these methods would be burdensome to the agency.

A sample draft of an access policy and procedures is attached to this leaflet to assist agencies in creating their own policies.

Developing agency access policies and providing access to public records comprise just one element of an effective records management program. For additional information on developing and maintaining an effective records management program, please contact the Government Records Division at (334) 242-4452. Current copies of ADAH publications, RDAs, training opportunities, and other information are available on the department's web site at

For further assistance, please contact
Alabama Department of Archives and History
Government Records Division
P. O. Box 300100
Montgomery, AL 36130-0100
Telephone: (334) 242-4452 FAX: (334) 240-3433

The attached access policy is an example only. It may be adapted to any agency's specific access rules and regulations, as long as these comply with the Alabama Public Records law and the various attorney general's opinions and court decisions discussed in the Access to Public Records leaflet and in the Alabama Press Association's Alabama Public Meetings and Records: A Manual for Alabama Public Officials.

The agency's access policy should be posted at the entrance to the agency's records area or in the office of the official responsible for providing access to an agency's records.


  1. Members of the public will be provided access to agency records Monday through Friday between ( insert hours). Copies of records may be obtained during the same hours.
  2. When requesting records, please fill out the form available at the location.
  3. There will be a cost to be determined by the agency per page and it reserves the right to limit or prohibit the photocopying of fragile records.
  4. In addition to in-person requests for copies, the agency provides/does not provide copies by mail/ fax/e-mail.
  5. The staff of the agency will provide the records you request as quickly as possible. In some cases, however - limited staff, records stored off-site, large volume of records requested - you may be asked to return to use the records or to obtain copies. All records requested in person will be available within no more than (length of time).
  6. Please do not smoke in the records area.
  7. Please do not bring food or drink into the records area.
  8. Please do not bring large bags, backpacks, or briefcases into the records area. These may be checked at the (location). Staff may ask to inspect items in a researcher's possession upon his/her entering or leaving the records area.
  9. Please do not remove any records from the records area.
  10. In accordance with state and federal laws, some agency records may not be open for public inspection. Details about which agency records are restricted may be obtained from (name).
  11. If you have any questions about this access policy or need further assistance, please ask to speak to(name) agency Access Officer.