The Public Records Act (PRA) requires agencies to “make available for public inspection and copying all public records”. RCW 42.56.070(1). http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=42.56.070
There are other provisions of the PRA which clearly contemplate allowing a requester to use agency resources:
- Agency facilities shall be made available to any person for the copying of public records except when and to the extent that this would unreasonably disrupt the operations of the agency. RCW 42.56.080.
- Public records shall be available for inspection and copying during the customary office hours of the agency. RCW 42.56.090.
- A reasonable charge may be imposed for providing copies of public records and for the use by any person of agency equipment or equipment. RCW 42.56.120.
These provisions are consistent with the intent of the PRA to “provide full public access to public records”. RCW 42.56.100. An agency must adopt rules to provide “the fullest assistance” to a requester. RCW 42.56.100. Agency rules may “protect public records from damage or disorganization, and to prevent excessive interference with other essential functions of the agency”. RCW 42.56.100.
While photographing records with your camera will not involve using agency resources, the PRA clearly does not prohibit photographing and requires an agency to assist the requester. Photographing records will not damage records. An agency should allow a requester to photograph records so long as it is not disruptive. It will save an agency money related to the time of their staff, and use of their copiers, etc. While the PRA doesn’t explicitly address this issue, an agency has a duty to provide “full public access” to a requester and that includes a request to photograph records where it doesn’t interfere with agency essential functions.
In a formal opinion (AGO 1998 No. 15), the Attorney General has concluded that the public has a right to record the public meetings of a governing body. http://www.atg.wa.gov/opinion.aspx?section=archive&id=9332. This formal opinion cites to the intent of the Open Public Meetings Act:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
The intent of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) is identical to the intent of the Public Records Act which states:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.
In conclusion, the intent of the Public Records Act, and its statutory provisions should be interpreted to allow photographing of public records.