What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act was created in 1967 to give the public access to federal agency records to keep them in the know regarding their federal government. Unless the requested information is protected under one of the legal exemptions, each agency is legally required to provide records requests to any citizen.
Fees may be required to obtain the records but are not allowed to exceed the cost of the records recreation. For more information regarding the FOIL, you can visit the FOIA.GOV website.
Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act
Up until January of 2009, Pennsylvania’s public records were one of the worst in the nation. At the same time, most of the United States amended its laws under the FOIA regulations to include government records access, even from those of individual government agencies. Pennsylvania state government records were NOT public.
In 2009, the governor at the time Ed Randall signed a new law into effect, Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law, stating that from there on out, all government records were to be that of public records unless otherwise determined by the law’s exemption.
Lawsuits That Helped Create the Public Records Act in Pennsylvania.
From the time FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) was created until the last amendments were made, Pennsylvania had a few country cases that made big changes in Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law.
- Harristown Development Corporation v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – 1992
- Judge v. Pocius – 1977
- Pennsylvania State Police v. Office of Open Records – 2010
- Pocono Record v. ESU Foundation – 2010
Each of these lawsuits helped to improve and create amendments to the records act in Pennsylvania, making it what it is today.
Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act (Open Meeting Law)
In Pennsylvania, the Sunshine Act has also made it possible for the public to be present during the meetings of public agencies before actions are to be taken.
This law makes it so that the public is not only present for these meetings but is allowed to comment and participate.
What Agencies in Pennsylvania Have to Adhere to the Open Meeting Law?
Any agency that is appointed by the state or local government body that performs essential government functions that take actions or renders advice to the public. This includes boards, authorities, committees, councils, and commissions.
These agencies must provide the public with at least three days’ notice in advance from the first of the fiscal year and then provide dates and times of future calendar meetings. Any special meetings or canceled meetings must be announced within 24 hours.
What Are Pennsylvania Public Records
Under the Sunshine Law, Pennsylvania considers all records held by local or legislative agencies as well as all judicial agencies. This covers executive and state offices, departments, state courts, legislative bodies, and authoritative departments.
The records that may be obtained are those that involve information or transaction of business within these agencies and all activities that are conducted within these boundaries set by the law.
Furthermore, records are considered to be that of paper documentations or transactions, recordings, emails, videos, recordings, maps, films, books, and letters.
How Do You Request Public Records in Pennsylvania
In order to file a records request, you should first identify where your request should be sent. There are multiple records request offices in the state that can conduct a records search. In order to Identify which agency you need to go through, you can look up each agency on the
Once you know where to request your records, you can now do so in one of four ways:
You will be required to complete a records request form that should have every detail possible of the records you are looking for.
Are There Fees Associated with a Records Request?
There are many records accessible online that pertain to Pennsylvania State, its history, and certain information regarding the citizens that can be done so for free with a simple lookup.
However, most records requests that are done through an agency and require documentation and look-up require a fee to be paid in order to cover the cost of the recreation of the documents. These fees should never exceed the amount paid to duplicate and disperse the documents.
Are There Exempt Records
There are many exempts to consider when looking up public records information. These exemptions are placed to protect the citizens, and all parties from personal information being leaked that could put their safety or the safety of others in danger.
These exemptions include but are not limited to:
- DNA records
- Autopsy records (some autopsy reports may be available to the public depending on each case
- Social Security numbers
- Personal financial information
- Personal email addresses
- Marital status
- Identity of a covert law enforcement officer
- Home address of judges or law enforcement
- Confidential source records
- Victim information
What Happens if My Request is Denied?
If your records are denied for any reason, you may file an appeal with the courts. The best way, and the quickest way, is by filing online https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/Appeals/HowToFile.cfm.
You can file an appeal anytime within 15 days of receiving your denial letter in the mail. After that, your appeal can be rejected, and you will have to start over by re-requesting your records.
You may also appeal the request for a fee you find to be inappropriate for the information you are requesting.
- The information required in the appeal letter must include:
- Your Right to know request
- A copy of the agency’s denial letter or you can note on the form the agency never responded.
- Provide in detail why the records being requested are public records
- Provide in detail the reason the agency is denying your requests.
If you are unable to send in your appeals request through the online form, you may also submit them:
Mailing the records to:
Office of Open Records
333 Market Street, 16th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101-2234
Or, in Person
Office of Open Records
333 Market Street, 16th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101-2234
(Check the website or call before going into the office.)
Is There a Fine Associated with Request Denials?
If the courts find that an agency had willfully and intentionally denied anyone the right to legally obtainable records, they can be fined anywhere from $100-$1,000 and will be required to hand over the records requested.
A court can also require the losing party to pay for all the court fees associated with the case.
How Do You Request Criminal Records?
In the state of Pennsylvania, criminal records can only be obtained by the owner of the records or their legal representation party. If an employer is attempting to obtain a criminal record for a future employee, they can do so with an attached affidavit signed by the owner of the record.
Government agencies and law enforcement agencies can use the PATCH (Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History) system. Pennsylvania state put this system into place to make the availability of criminal history records easier to the public.
Is There a Fee for Criminal Records Requests?
There is a fee associated with a criminal records request and is due before the records will be released. It is a $22 non-refundable fee, plus a $5 non-refundable fee for notarizing (which can only be done through a Pennsylvania state police notary.)
What Information Can Be Found on Criminal History Records?
- Name, date of birth, nationality, etc.
- A full set of fingerprints
- Unique features like tattoos, scars, birthmarks, etc
- Offense (misdemeanor or felony)
- Description of the crime committed
<h3<911 Time Response Logs
911 recording and other police recordings and videos are not covered under the right to know act. However, they can still be requested and, with the right circumstances, may be released to the public with a records request.
To request a police recording or video submit your form of request with the exact description for the request to:
Pennsylvania State Police
Bureau of Records & Identification
ATTN: Agency Open Records Officer, Mr.William Rozier
1800 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110
The request can be made for any police records; however, the agency under the law can not confirm nor deny the existence of the documents until a decision has been made. If the records request is approved, there will be a fee associated with the release of the documentation.
How Do You Access Court Records in the State of Pennsylvania?
In the State of Pennsylvania, many court hearings and cases are open for public review. You can find these court cases online through their website http://www.pacourts.us/public-records/court-case-information.
The cases that are available for viewing are as follows:
- Appellate court case information:
- Criminal Common Pleas
- Magisterial district court case information, including
- Civil cases
- Criminal cases
- Traffic cases
- Non-traffic cases
- Landlord/tenant cases
The information that can be found online regarding these court cases are but not limited to:
- Docket sheet
- Court opinions and postings
- Judges on the case
How Do You Have a Crime Expunged or Sealed From Your Records in Pennsylvania?
Getting your criminal records expunged in Pennsylvania means that your records will be permanently destroyed. This differs from sealing the records because to seal records, you do not entirely eliminate the records; the accessibility is limited.
Sealed records still exist, but you do not have to disclose the information on things like housing applications or job applications. The only people who will have access to these records are law enforcement officers, courts, and some employers like government agencies.
Records are usually automatically sealed on their own after a certain amount of time, and you usually do not have to request to have this completed.
Examples of records that can be sealed are as follows:
- Crimes charged but not convicted.
- Second or third-degree misdemeanors can be sealed if you are not charged with another criminal offense after ten years.
- Summary offenses that are at least ten years old.
If your records have not been sealed, you can request the courts to seal them by submitting the request and paying a fee. You can request for your records to be sealed by visiting the My Clean Slate website.
Expunged records are completely destroyed by the courts, and no documentation remains anywhere completely eliminating the past offense.
Examples of records that can be expunged are as follows:
- Minor offenses such as disorderly conduct or loitering can be expunged from your records if no other offenses are committed for at least five years from the original crime.
- Crimes in which you served your sentence or program and have not committed another criminal offense within that time
- If you are 70 years of age or older, your criminal records can be expunged from your record if no criminal charges have been given within ten years.
- You can also have your records partially expunged in situations such as being charged with eight crimes but only convicted of 1, so 7 crimes can be expunged.
How Do You Request Inmate Records?
You can look up and view current inmates in the State of Pennsylvania through their website at http://inmatelocator.cor.pa.gov/#/. These records are free for the public to access.
The information available to the public regarding the information on current inmates includes but not limited to;
- Inmate ID #
- Date of birth
- Current location
The information regarding the inmates’ charges is considered to be private information and is not available to the public. Some of this information can legally be released through the courts of the department of corrections.
How Do You Request Parolee Records in Pennsylvania?
A parolee’s criminal records give information regarding the release of a person who was recently released from prison after finishing time served or was released from their sentence early.
Only partial records are available for public viewing and these are available for the safety of the public giving victims and the public information regarding the release of someone who has committed a crime.
You can request parolee records by accessing the parolee lookup website at http://inmatelocator.cor.pa.gov/#/. These records are free to access for the public and include information such as:
- Inmate ID
- Date of Birth
- County of Residence
- Release Date
How to Request Warrant Information in Pennsylvania
In the State of Pennsylvania, arrest warrants are considered to be public records and are accessible online or by calling your local police department. You can access these arrest warrants by logging onto the website of the state at http://www.pacourts.us/courts/supreme-court/docket-sheets.
An arrest warrant is a warrant issued and signed by a judge allowing the police to locate and arrest a person under the suspicion that they had committed a crime. A warrant is issued when and only if there is plenty of proof against the suspect that would lead any police officer or law enforcement agency to believe they are guilty of said crime.
In the state of Pennsylvania, a search warrant is normally not available for public review under the Right to Know Act. These warrants are issued by a judge giving permission for law enforcement to enter a person’s home or vehicle in order to search for and obtain any criminal evidence linking the suspect to a crime.
<h2<Pennsylvania’s Sex Offenders Registry Records
Pennsylvania has an open records policy regarding sex offenders, and their information is available for all public viewing. This law is known as Megan’s Law and was put into place on October 24, 1995. This law was signed into effect by then-Governor Tom Ridge.
The purpose of Megan’s Law is to keep the public and our children safe from charged sexual offenders. Allowing the public to know where and when sexual predators are being released from prison and their location afterward to keep children safe.
Megan’s Law helped put into place the online registry that holds all information regarding sex offenders in the state of Pennsylvania. This is to track and provide an update on sex offenders that have not only been charged with but convicted of a sexual offense.
Where Can I Find Sex Offender Information Online in Pennsylvania?
You can access the sex offenders list in Pennsylvania by looking at their registry https://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/Search/SVP_SVDC_Search. This search will bring up all criminally charged sex offenders in the state of Pennsylvania, giving you access to all pertinent information regarding the whereabouts of the offenders and their vital information to help you stay safe and aware.
The information available on the website regarding the offenders are as follows:
- Name (first, last, and middle)
- Aliases (all names the person has ever been known by)
- Birth year
- Current and all previous address (addresses where the person has been known to reside or stay)
- Temporary housing for homeless individuals (such as shelter parks, dwellings, places they go to eat, places they go for recreational activities, etc.
- Location of any school or training center the convicted person may attend
- Location of the offender’s current place of employment
- Offender’s photo
- A complete physical description of the offender (hair color, eye color, height, weight, etc.)
- Unique physical descriptions (tattoos, piercings, scars, etc.)
- Description of the offender’s current vehicle and their license plate #
- Offender’s compliance status (whether they are making their annual in-person registration renewal and abiding by the laws set in place for sex offenders.)
- Age of victim (Victims identity and all other information is not public records and will not be released)
- Description of the offense the offender was charged with and the tier the offender has registered for
- Date the offender was convicted
- Most recent update on the registry provided by the offender
- Map of where the offender lives
How Can Offenders be Removed From the Sex Offender Registry?
Depending on the severity of the crime, a sex offender may be removed from the registry once they have completed the time sentenced and is now no longer considered to be a risk to the public and does not have to be listed as an offender.
An offender can also be removed from the list if they have since passed away or have moved out of Pennsylvania State. If an offender has moved out of Pennsylvania, they have a small window of time to register on the sex offender registry in their new location.
How Do I Request Vital Records In Pennsylvania?
Vital records are available to all residents in the state of Pennsylvania by logging onto their vital records website Pennsylvania Vital Records. These records are available for copies and can be requested in a few different ways.
Vital records in the state of Pennsylvania are birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, and divorce decrees. You can also request adoption information and paternal documentation through the vital records department with the proper documentation and identification.
Email Records Request to:
PA Department of Health
Call the Vital Records Department at:
724-656-3100 or 844-228-3516
Mail your request to:
Department of Health
Bureau of Health Statistics & Registries
Division of Vital Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103
How to Request Your Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania
You can request a birth certificate from the local municipality in which you were born simply by visiting their website or calling the office. You can also purchase a birth certificate online by visiting Pennsylvania’s Department of Health website.
The fee for purchasing a birth certificate is $20 per certificate, with an additional $10 service fee if purchasing online.
This fee is only waived for persons in the armed forces. (note: the waiver will only cover the certificate fee, not the postage fee or the online service fee.)
Who Can Request a Birth Certificate?
In order to request a birth certificate, you will first have to complete the application form, show a valid ID, and sign the application. You also must be at least 18 years old, and you are one of the following parties:
- The person on the birth certificate
- Spouse of whom the requested certificate is for
- Parent of the person on the certificate
- Son or daughter of the person on the certificate
- Brother, half-brother, sister, half-sister of the person on the certificate
- Grandparent of the person on the certificate
- Great Grandparent of the person on the certificate
- Power of Attorney of the person on the certificate
- Grand Child of the person on the certificate
- Great GrandChild of the person on the certificate
- A legal representative of the person on the certificate with proper documentation
How to Request a Death Certificate in Pennsylvania
You can quickly request a death certificate online at https://mycertificates.health.pa.gov/pastorefront/customer/pa/paProductSelect.xhtml. You can also go into the records office or request by mail.
For mail-in requests or in-person requests, you must complete the following form and attach the payment along with it—the death Certificate Request Form.
Address for Records Department:
Division of Vital Records
Death Certificate Processing Unit
PO Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103
Is There a Fee for Death Certificates
Yes, there is a $20 fee for each certificate requested and an extra $10 service fee for all records requested online.
Who Can Request a Death Certificate
In order to obtain a death certificate, you must complete the requested application with your signature, be 18 years old, and present a valid ID.
Those who have the rights to request a death certificate of the deceased are as follows:
- Ex-spouse (with documentation of proof)
- Step-Parent (with documentation of proof)
- Brother/half brother, sister/half-sister
- Step-son or step-daughter (provide parent’s marriage certificate for proof of relationship)
- Power of Attorney
- Attorney or legal representative (With documentation of proof)
- Financial supporters
- The government office that has assumed administration of an estate (with documentation of proof)
Death certificates can also be considered public records if the person on the certificate has been deceased for at least 100 years.
How to Request a Marriage Certificate in Pennsylvania
To obtain your marriage certificate in the state of Pennsylvania, you need to contact the county clerk’s office where you were married.
How to Request Divorce Certificates in Pennsylvania
To obtain a divorce decree, you will need to get in contact with the Prothonotary’s Office in the county where the divorce took place.
How to Obtain Historical Records in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania State Library is full of official records and statistics compiled from data throughout decades of historical events.
These records include but not restricted to:
- Adoption Records
- Cemetery Information
- Ethnic and Religious history (ancestry)
- Maps & Geographical Information
- Military Records
- Historical Newspapers
- Pennsylvania Genealogical & Historical Societies
- Pennsylvania State Archives
- Genealogical Research guidance
- Genealogy Surname Files
- Historical Steel, Railroads & Mines records
- Historical Vital Records
How to Obtain Adoption Records in the State of Pennsylvania
In the State of Pennsylvania, adoption records are only open to the adoptee once they turn 18 or to their adoptive parents of those under 18. This information can be requested through the adoption courts, and any information provided will NOT include the identities of the natural parents.
A court may contact the natural parents at the time of the request to get their permission for the release of their identification; however, those who do not want to give out that information are not required by law to do so.
How to Obtain Cemetery and Obituary information in Pennsylvania
For ancestral research containing the information regarding the cemetery of their family or the obituary can provide a lot of information regarding that person’s life. You can obtain information regarding Cemetery burial sites and past obituaries in the state of Pennsylvania through these recourse sites.
- African American Cemeteries Online
- Cemetery Records – Cumberland County, PA
- Cemetery Records Online
- Find A GraveOpens
- Pennsylvania Necrology Scrap
- Online Searchable Death Indexes for the USA
- Pennsylvania Obituary Links
- The Political Graveyard – a Database of Historic Cemeteries
- Zeamer Collection: Cumberland County
How to Obtain Census Records in Pennsylvania
Information in the census reports for Pennsylvania is not considered public records, and the actual data cannot be given out to the public. However, you can see the information that has been released by visiting the Pennsylvania Historical Records website.
This site will tell you the information that was accumulated for that time period and how much of the original records remain today. PA Historical Census Data.
How to Obtain Immigration Records in Pennsylvania
There are multiple ways to obtain immigration records in the state of Pennsylvania, many of which can be found in the state’s Library. This includes the ship’s passenger’s logs and the Supreme Courts Naturalization Records.
The Passenger logs for ships bringing immigrants into Pennsylvania are available by visiting the Pennsylvania Library. These lists started recording passengers’ names as early as 1727.
Some of the information that can be found on any passengers logs are as follows, but not limited to:
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Who is traveling together
- Place of departure
Not all information will be available for all records. Some ships kept detailed records, whereas others barely kept any records at all.
To obtain information regarding Naturalization records in Pennsylvania state, you can visit the PA Library PA Supreme Court Neutralization site. The information obtainable through the site includes the five steps included in the proceeding.
- Declaration of Intention
- Neutralization of petition
- Order granting Citizenship
- Certificate of Citizenship
How to Obtain Military Records in the State of Pennsylvania
Historical military records are easily accessible in the state of Pennsylvania.
There are many military records available for viewing in the state of Pennsylvania Library. These records include but are not limited to:
- French and Indian War
- Revolutionary War
- War of 1812
- Mexican War
- Civil War
- Pennsylvania National Guard
- Spanish-American War
- Mexican Border Campaign
- World War I
- World War II
- Vietnam Conflict
You can also access pension records related to the Revolutionary War by visiting the Revolutionary War archives.
How to Access Coal Miners Records for the State of Pennsylvania
If you are interested in learning about coal mining from the history of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania library and its online history page have hundreds of documents and data spanning decades.
These records include but are not limited to:
- Anthracite Coal Records
- Bituminous Coal Records
- Miner’s Certificate Cards and Stubs, 1937, 1938
- Machine Runner and Cutting, Loading, and Drilling Machine Operators Certificate Stubs, the 1930s-1960s
- Examinations Relating to Bituminous Mine Officials 1963-1998, 2002-2003, 2007-2008
- Department of Mines Expense Account Book, 1909-1912
- Registers of Mine Accidents, Anthracite, Bituminous and Non-Coal, 1973-1989
How to Obtain Tax Records in the State of Pennsylvania
You can obtain all tax information that is legally available to the public through the Right to Know Act can be located on the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Website. The records that can be found here include, but are not limited to:
- Act 52 of 2013 Bank Shares Tax Reform Report
- 2017 Final Tax Amnesty Report
- 2010 Final Tax Amnesty Report
- 2006 Film Production Tax Credit Report
- 2004 Report on Act 46 of 2003
- 2004 PA Business Tax Reform Commission Final Report
- Direct Pay Permits
- Directives & Guidance
- Election Results
- Poll Worker Training
- Voting Systems
- Voting & Election Statistics
- Pennsylvania’s Online Voter Registration Web API (PA OVR WebAPI)
To request tax records in the state of Pennsylvania, you are required to complete the form AUTHORIZATION FOR RELEASE OF TAX RECORDS and faxed to 717-783-4355.
How to Obtain Business Records in the State of Pennsylvania
There are many different ways to access business records in the state of Pennsylvania. The easiest way to do this is by accessing the Pennsylvania Department of State website. This website will give you access to all records obtainable to the public by law under the Sunshine Act.
This website will help you locate and identify a business or corporation, and it will give you the details regarding its location, the amount of revenue it brings in, whether or not it is in good government standings, etc.
Another resource to help locate business information in the state of Pennsylvania is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website.
How to Obtain School Related Records in the State of Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there are four main topics available for the public to see. These topics include:
● Visualization for Staff
● Professional and Support Personnel
● Teacher Quality
● Report of Education Preparation and Certification
These topics cover all records that are available for public records. You can access education and school-related records through Education.PA.Gov.
How to Obtain Land Records of Pennsylvania State
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum of Commission has information regarding information such as but are not limited to:
● Application – a request for a warrant to have a survey made. These records are historical records dating back to the 1680s.
● Warrant – Documentation of authorizing a survey of a piece of land; the initiation title of a property and shows the basis for settlement, but does declare the rights to the property.
● Survey – a drawing of property boundaries that shows a property’s acreage
● Images of all surveys (recopied into books) are now available
● Return – internal documentation that was sent from a surveyor-general to the Secretary of the Land Office
● Patent – Final deed from Commonwealth, which conveys clear title and all rights to the private owner.
● Proof of Settlement Certificates
● All these records can be found on the
● Pre-Emption Application
● Application Books
All of the information regarding historical land records can be found on their website.
Before requesting any type of records from any agency in Pennsylvania, please call ahead to make sure they are available for in-person records requests.