Frequently Asked Questions
Code for Hawaii created this site. Code for Hawaii is an organization of volunteers interested in open data, open knowledge, civic apps, big data, data visualization, APIs and the application of technology to make our communities better. Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that advocates for open government in Hawaii, worked with Code for Hawaii on the site's creation and hosts the site.
This site has not been optimized for all browsers. As a workaround, you should be able to copy and paste webpage text into a document for printing. If you are looking for copies of documents related to your own requests, there is a button on the request summary page that lets you download all associated documents as a .zip file.
This site requires verification of user email addresses. Confirm that your email server is not blocking emails from UIPA.org. You may need to add UIPA.org to a server whitelist. If you cannot add domains to your server whitelist, you may wish to use a different email address for this site.
After creation of an account, you cannot change your organization from account settings. Email the administrator, and we can update your record for pending requests; be sure to let us know your account email address. Alternatively, if you have no pending requests, you can create a new account.
Yes, we recognize that reporters and others may have an interest in not immediately disclosing a request and any documents received in response to that request. You control whether a request and any government response is released publicly for up to 1 year after the request. When making the request, uncheck the box stating “This request is public.” If you do not uncheck the box when making the request, your request will be publicly disclosed on the Internet as soon as it is made.
At any time after the request, you can publish it and any response. When you are ready to do so, the summary page for your request will note at the top that the request is not public and provide you the option to "Make this request public now".
One year after the request, it and any response will be released regardless whether you initially marked it as private. You will receive an email two weeks before the materials are released publicly.
The site administrator would have access for maintenance purposes. The site administrator will not share your non-public requests with others. But all requests will be publicly disclosed 1 year after you make the request.
Yes, the summary page for your request identifies a "Secret Short URL" that can be shared with someone that you want to have access to the request before it is disclosed publicly.
The process for obtaining public records can be difficult. But it is made more difficult by the fact that individual members of the public cannot build on the experiences of others going through the same struggle. By sharing records and agency responses, the public benefits from the collective experiences of other requesters.
Also your request for public records is not confidential. Requests for public records themselves are government records subject to disclosure under the UIPA. OIP Op. 93-23 at 5. Anyone may ask a public agency for copies of records requests made by others.
Nevertheless, recognizing the needs of those in the community who use public records requests for research purposes, the site has chosen to permit an embargo period for up to 1 year. Most record requests in Hawaii are resolved within that period even allowing time for the requester to review the records before public release.
The site is not a comprehensive listing of all sub-units of government entities subject to Hawaii’s public records law. Consider whether there is a more general agency responsible for the entity you are seeking. For example, if you plan to request records from the State Fire Council, the appropriate contact agency is the State Department of Labor & Industrial Relations. We have sought to make this information searchable, but not every entity may be covered. If you have additional suggested search terms for particular agencies, please let us know.
Also, there are some public agencies not included on this site. Despite our diligent research and inquiries, there is no appropriate email address to send UIPA requests to those agencies. At this time, your best option is submitting a written request to those agencies by mail or in person. We would encourage you to send us your request and the response from the agency, so that we can upload the materials for other requesters.
The excluded agencies are:
- Office of the Governor
- State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
- Kauai County Attorney
- Kauai Department of Finance
- Kauai Department of Human Resources
- Kauai Department of Parks & Recreation
- Kauai County Housing Agency
- Kauai Police Department
- Kauai Office of Boards & Commissions
- Kauai Office of Economic Development
- Kauai Planning Department
- City Department of Community Services
- City Department of Design & Construction
- City Department of Environmental Services
- City Department of Facility Maintenance
- City Department of Human Resources
- City Department of Transportation Services
- City Department of the Medical Examiner
- City Department of the Prosecuting Attorney
- Honolulu Emergency Services Department
- Honolulu Fire Department
No, this site is tailored to state and county agencies subject to Hawaii’s public records law. Federal agencies are subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). There are other sites that provide services tailored to FOIA. Consider using iFOIA or FOIA Machine.
Individuals have a privacy interest in records about themselves. Whenever a request is made for records about a person, that person's privacy interest must be weighed against the public’s interest in releasing the record. A public agency may redact portions of a record to ensure that “private” information about the individual is not disclosed to the general public. And in rare instances, the agency may be authorized to say that it cannot confirm or deny even the existence of such records about a specific person. E.g., OIP Op. 95-21 at 18.
However, if you make a request without identifying that person by name or any other personal identifier, the public agency may maintain his or her privacy by redacting any personal identifying information from the document. In other words, the content of the record would be accessible, but there would be no information tying the content to a specific person. Making the request without the person's name thus would result in more disclosure about government operations than a request using a name.
At a minimum, if you cannot avoid referencing an individual by name or personal identifier, consider asking for the record both by name and by incident or other more generic description. See, e.g., OIP Op. 98-5 at 26-27.
You should not use the site to make personal records requests (a request for documents about yourself). When responding to a personal records requests, agencies provide documents without redacting your personal identifying or private information. Ultimately, that is a problem because all information requested through the site is posted for public view. Your private information thus would be publicly disclosed if you used this site to make a personal records request.
In general, no, it is better to make as targeted a request as possible for records that you need. Requests for “any” or “all” records on a topic may result in far more records than you need. The more records responsive to your request, the public agency must spend more time reviewing and processing those records for disclosure. In addition to copying costs (if applicable), the public agency may charge you fees for searching, reviewing, and redacting records. For a voluminous set of responsive records, you can anticipate that the fees may be significant. Focusing your request typically reduces the cost of obtaining public records.
Yes, “the agency must generally provide a copy of that government record in the format requested by the public, unless doing so might significantly risk damage, loss, or destruction of the original record.” E.g., OIP Op. 01-03 at 9-10 (database of inmate data must be disclosed in requested format). A public agency is not required, however, to convert electronic files to a format that is not readily available. Be sure to specify in your request the format you are seeking. Also, be aware that the UIPA exceptions continue to apply, and certain information may be redacted from electronic documents.
No, the site does not support user-uploaded attachments. Keep in mind that public records requests should be concise descriptions of the documents sought. In most instances, attaching documents may provide more confusion than clarity for the public agency.
No. The site processes your request to generate an email with attached form. The only information required to process a formal request for public records is: (1) a written, electronic, or other physical form of request (i.e., not a verbal request); (2) sufficient contact information to correspond with the requester; (3) a reasonable description of the requested records; and (4) an express statement asking to inspect or obtain a copy of the requested records. HAR § 2-71-12. However, some public agencies have insisted that requesters fill out the form with each request, even though it states at the top: “the Requester is not required to use this form or to provide any personal information.” To avoid any issues, the site has been designed to prepare the form automatically based on the information that you provide.
Any attachments on the request summary page may be redacted using the site's online redaction tool or may be printed, redacted, and uploaded to the site using the Got Mail? button. Publishing individual documents will not reveal a request that otherwise is marked as non-public. If there is nothing to redact from the listed documents, you can simply choose to Publish This Attachment.
The online redaction tool only works for PDF documents.
You will receive notifications when you send a request, when an agency sends a message responding to your request, and when you send follow-up messages to the agency. In addition, if the public agency does not send any response to your request within 17 days, the site will notify you that the request is overdue. The site also will send you weekly reminders if you have received a response from the agency, but have not classified the request as ongoing or completed. And if there has been no activity on an unresolved request for 6 months, you will receive a reminder. Finally, for any request marked non-public, you will receive a reminder 2 weeks before the request and any responses are publicly disclosed (1 year after the request).
Because the request process can take weeks or months to resolve, reminders are critical to ensuring that you do not lose track of a request. If you receive a reminder, consider whether: (1) the request can be marked as completed; or (2) you need to request a status update from the public agency. Most importantly, when you receive a reminder, consider whether you need to answer a response from the agency. Your request may be considered abandoned (i.e., you will need to start the process over), if you take more than 20 business days to pay an assessment of fees, make arrangements to inspect records, or provide clarification when requested by the agency. HAR § 2-71-16.
First, confirm that the deadline for the agency’s response has passed. You should receive some form of response no later than 10 business days after the public agency receives your request. The type of response depends on your request and the work required for the agency to respond. For more information on agency deadlines, the Civil Beat Law Center has a tipsheet.
Second, if the deadline has passed, politely follow up with the public agency using the Send a Message button on your request summary page. The Civil Beat Law Center has a tipsheet with possible language.
Third, if you do not receive a response after follow-up, consider requesting assistance from the Office of Information Practices. To request assistance, email firstname.lastname@example.org, attaching your prior e-mails to the agency and OIP’s Form for Request for Assistance (check that request was “Not answered” and that you are seeking “Assistance in obtaining access to the requested record(s)”).
Lastly, if your efforts are not successful, consult with an attorney.
If the public agency responded with a mailed hard copy or sent a message to your personal email address, please scan the correspondence as a PDF and upload it to the site using the Got Mail? button on the summary page for your request. If you need to redact personal information, you can redact the document before you scan it or may use the online redaction tool once the document is uploaded. For example, you may wish to redact your personal email address or postal address from correspondence before that correspondence is published on the website.
If you want to send a follow-up message to a public agency, all correspondence should take place through the UIPA.org platform. To send a follow-up message, use the Send A Message button on the request's summary page.
Yes, even if you follow all the correct procedures in making a request, an agency may deny the request if you ask for records protected from disclosure under the UIPA. There are five general exception categories under the UIPA: (1) personal privacy; (2) litigation privileges; (3) frustration of government function; (4) confidentiality statutes; and (5) legislative working papers. HRS § 92F-13. The exceptions largely are discretionary, however, because the UIPA “generally, does not prohibit disclosure of records and information but rather authorizes government agencies to withhold access to records and information in certain circumstances. Thus, agencies are not required to invoke the exceptions to access and may elect to disclose records that could be withheld under the exceptions.” OIP Op. 04-12 at 2 fn. 3.
(1) Personal privacy. This exception protects from disclosure medical, personnel, financial, and similar private information about an individual. Public agencies must weigh the privacy interests of the individual against the public interest in learning more about government operations to determine whether particular information will be disclosed. In appropriate circumstances, agencies may publicly disclose a document with names and other personal identifying information redacted to protect personal privacy.
(2) Litigation privileges. The UIPA does not require public disclosure of information that the government could withhold from discovery in litigation. Examples of this protection include information protected by the attorney-client privilege, psychologist-client privilege, spousal privilege, and trade secrets.
(3) Frustration exception. Although “frustration” is vague, the Legislature provided examples of records that would fall within this exception. The Legislature’s list of examples is not comprehensive, but an agency seeking to add a new category to this exception must have a strong justification. OIP Op. 91-15 at 11-12 (“[W]e are constrained to construe the UIPA’s ‘frustration of legitimate government function’ exception narrowly, and extend its application only upon a clear showing that the disclosure of a particular government record would frustrate or impair a legitimate government function.”). For each of the following examples, there are more complex standards that govern whether information must be disclosed.
Examples of frustration:
- Certain law enforcement records
- Examination materials
- Certain government purchasing information
- Land acquisition information
- Security information
- Proprietary information
- Confidential business information
- Restricted access to donated records
(4) Confidentiality statutes. This exception protects from disclosure any records that a public agency is required to keep confidential by federal or state law or by a court order. In other words, the UIPA does not require an agency to violate another law that expressly prohibits disclosure of information.
(5) Legislative working papers. This exceptions protects legislative working papers and personal files of individual legislators.
When a public agency denies access to records, a requester has two options: (1) appeal the denial to the Office of Information Practices (within 1 year of the denial); or (2) take the matter to state court (within 2 years of the denial). You should consult with an attorney regarding your particular request.
You are entitled to an explanation for why the public agency did not provide the record in the format you requested. “[T]he agency must generally provide a copy of that government record in the format requested by the public, unless doing so might significantly risk damage, loss, or destruction of the original record.” E.g., OIP Op. 01-03 at 9-10 (database of inmate data must be disclosed in requested format). There may be rare instances in which the public agency has substantiated concerns that disclosure in native electronic format would reveal metadata or other information that: (1) the agency cannot redact from the electronic record; and (2) is protected from disclosure by a UIPA exception.
Yes, an agency may redact (or segregate) information from publicly disclosed records to withhold specific information that is protected by a UIPA exception. Redacting records is preferable to the agency withholding the entire document simply because a few lines are protected by an exception. If you disagree with the agency that the redacted information is protected by an exception, you can treat redactions as similar to denial of access for purposes of seeking further remedies.
Public agencies are permitted to charge certain fees and costs in responding to public records requests. Fees for searching for, reviewing, and redacting records are set by State regulation. HAR § 2-71-31. All requesters receive an automatic discount intended to cover small requests; requests that serve the public interest receive a slightly larger discount. HAR § 2-71-32. Public agencies also may charge copying costs and other lawful costs incurred in providing records.
No, but reporters and others making requests that serve the public interest should include in the text of their requests a public interest statement. The statement must: (1) state your identity; (2) explain how the requested records concern government operations; (3) state that the records are not readily available to the public through other sources; and (4) explain how you plan to widely disseminate the information in the records to the general public. HAR § 2-71-32. For detailed suggestions on language, the Civil Beat Law Center has a tipsheet.
Do not attempt to claim that dissemination on this site qualifies as wide dissemination to the general public. The site will not provide information or otherwise support such a claim.
There are a few reasons that this may occur. First, if the agency only had a hard copy of the document, it may be justified in charging the costs of scanning the record as a PDF. See HRS § 92-21. Second, if the agency was required to printout an existing PDF for redactions, it may be justified in charging the cost of the printout. Third, the agency may not have considered that its standard copying charges are inappropriate when simply forwarding an electronic record because the agency has not incurred the same labor, materials, and equipment costs for the electronic copy as would have when providing a paper copy. If there are no hard copy redactions to a requested record in electronic format, you would be justified in asking the public agency what basis it had for charging you copying costs.