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Georgia Open Records Explainer

Last Updated: March 2024



Sample Annotated Request


1. What is the Open Records Act?

The Georgia Open Records Act (GORA or the Act) is a state law, found at Section 50-18-70 to Section 50-18-78 of the Official Code of Georgia (OCGA), that requires state agencies to make governmental records available for inspection and copying by the public.

2. Who can make a request?

Any individual, corporation, or other entity such as a non-profit organization can make a request for public records under GORA, even if they are not a resident of Georgia.[i]

3. Do you need to include an explanation of why you are filing your request?

  • Generally, no, there is no requirement to explain the reason you are filing your GORA request, except for a few very specific categories of records that do require an explanation for certain reasons.[ii]

  • This means that a responding agency cannot use the requester’s failure to provide a valid reason for, or to explain their interest in, the requested documents to justify denying the requester’s access to those records.[iii]

Practice Tip: While the purpose is not relevant to your request, providing a purpose for your request may still be helpful in potentially getting discounts on fees. In some cases, providing a purpose can also be useful if you are doing public advocacy around the filing of your GORA request.

4. Which government officials or agencies can you request records from?

  • The Act uses the term “agency” to mean a broad range of different types of public institutions and government bodies.
    • This includes agencies at all levels of government - state, county, regional, city and local, as well as many offices and components within bigger public agencies.
    • It also includes non-profits that receive more than a third of their budget from the state tax funds, and certain other organizations that receive significant funding from public taxes. [iii]
    • It does NOT include the Georgia legislature. [iii]
    • While most court records are not covered by GORA, there are provisions under GORA to separately access court documents.

5. What types of records can you request?

  • Except for “exempt” records (see below), “public records” includes:
    • documents, papers, letters, computer based or generated information, data, or similar material that are prepared, maintained, or received by an agency, and
    • records that are maintained or received by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of a government agency, or have been transferred to a private person or entity by an agency for storage or future governmental use[iv]--for example, a private company that stores boxes of records for the Georgia Department of Labor.

Practice Tip: Get creative with the types of records you request—emails, text messages, maps, videos—and the agencies you request them from.

6. What types of records are “exempt” from being disclosed to you?

  • The Act identifies many categories of records as records that are not available under—or that are “exempt” from—the Act for the public’s inspection and/or copying—i.e., records that federal law requires must be kept confidential; medical or veterinary records; certain employment records of certain public employees; and law enforcement records in pending investigations.[v]

  • But these “exemptions” are to be applied narrowly, meaning the exemption should not be extended to apply to records not specifically identified as exempt.[vi]

Practice Tip: When making an open records request, requesters should ask the agency to state whether they are withholding any records they claim are exempt, specify which exemptions they claim apply, and release any non-exempt portions of records that contain both exempt and non-exempt materials. Remind agencies in your request that courts have said they must “narrowly construe” any exemptions.

7. What is the cost? Can you get a fee waiver?

An agency may:

  • charge reasonable costs for their time spent searching for and producing the requested records;
  • not charge more than the hourly salary of the lowest paid full-time employee who has the necessary skills to perform the request;
  • not charge for the first 15 minutes of a search;[vii]and
  • charge up to 10¢ per page for copies or the “actual cost” of copies electronically delivered records (e.g., a flash drive).[viii]

Practice Tip: Although the Act doesn’t prohibit or require fee waivers, we recommend that you still ask for a waiver based on your economic status and/or the public interest nature of your request, if applicable.

8. How and where do you make a request?

Requests should be made orally or in writing to an agency’s designated open records officer. If there’s a designated open records officer, that information must be on an agency’s website or provided upon request.

  • Written requests may be made by email, fax, or another method the agency regularly uses, such as an online portal.[ix]
  • Note that any oral requests cannot be enforced in court.[x]

Requests for electronic messages (i.e., email, text message, or other format) should contain information about the messages that will help the agency find the records, i.e., name, title, or office of person(s) whose messages are sought and databases to be searched.[xi]

9. What is the process and timeline once a request is submitted?

  • Agencies are required to produce records within 3 business days of receipt of a request;

  • If there are some records they cannot produce until after 3 days, agencies must produce whatever records it can in 3 days and provide the requester with a description and timeline for delivering the rest.[xii]

  • If an agency withholds any record, within 3 business days it must notify the requester of the legal basis in the Act for not producing, known as an “exemption” (see above).[xiii]

  • If the estimated cost of production will be more than $25, agencies must notify the requester within 3 business days and can defer production until the requester agrees to pay the estimated cost—unless the requester already indicated a willingness to pay the $25 amount.

  • For digital or electronic records or data, you can request printouts or electronic copies.[xiv]

  • A responding agency can also provide access via a public website, but the data on the site must still be in its original format, if you request. [xvi]

Practice Tip: As a best practice, requesters should specify the desired format for documents to be delivered, understanding that the agency may not need to comply.

10. What if an agency denies your request?

  • Unlike the federal Freedom of Information Act and some other state open records law, there is no administrative appeals process under the GORA.

  • You can sue in Georgia superior court to get the agency to comply with the Act,[xv] but only for requests made in writing. [xvi]

  • The GORA does not give the time period in which you must file a lawsuit, but there’s a suggestion that you file within two years of the agency’s violation of the Act.[xvii] 

Other Resources:


[i] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-73(a) (2022).

[ii] See, e.g., O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(5) (motor vehicle accident reports); O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(20) (access to social security numbers to news organizations).

[iii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(a) (emphasis added); see also Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 181 (2013).

[iv] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(b)(2).

[v] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(1)-(52).

[vi] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(a).

[vii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(c)(1).

[viii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(c)(2).

[ix] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(b)(1)(B), (b)(2).

[x] See O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(b)(3).

[xi] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(g).

[xii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(b)(1).

[xiii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(d).

[xiv] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(f), (h).

[xv] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-73(a).

[xvi] § 50-18-71(b)(3).

[xvii] O.C.G.A. § 50-18-73(a); see Daker v. Almand, No. 21-10618, 2023 WL 4743749, at *1 (11th Cir. July 25, 2023) (acknowledging magistrate judge’s recommendation of dismissal of GORA claim because it fell outside of 2-year statute of limitation, which district court later adopted).