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OPEN GOVERNMENT

The Public Records Law

The Public Records Law (Wisconsin Statutes §§ 19.31-39) guarantees the public’s right to view and/or copy governmental records, unless disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Under Wisconsin’s open records law, employees at state agencies are the custodians of agency records. Custodians of public records have a responsibility to serve the public by providing documentation of our government’s activities.

Closeup of hands searching through paper files

WHAT CAN YOU REQUEST?

As a member of the public, you have the right to inspect and/or copy any record held by a government office or authority, unless it falls within specific statutory exemptions or is contrary to the public interest.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A RECORD?

  • any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual, or electromagnetic
    information or electronically generated or stored data is recorded or preserved, regardless
    of physical form or characteristics, that has been created or is being kept by an authority
  • handwritten, typed, or printed pages
  • maps or charts
  • photographs, films, recordings, tapes (including computer tapes)
  • optical discs, and any other medium on which electronically generated or stored data is
    recorded or preserved
  • A “record” also includes contractors’ records.

WHAT IS NOT CONSIDERED A RECORD?

  • drafts, notes, preliminary computations, and like materials prepared for the
    originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for
    whom the originator is working
  • materials that are purely the personal property of the custodian and have no
    relation to his or her office
  • materials to which access is limited by copyright, patent, or bequest
  • published materials in the possession of an authority other than a public library that
    are available for sale, or that are available for inspection at a public library