The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records issued an alert concerning anonymous Right to Know Law requests generated by an online service called FOIA Buddy after receiving reports from “numerous” agencies. 

On its website, FOIA Buddy describes itself as a “comprehensive resource” that simplifies the process of requesting public information from the agencies by which it is maintained. Officials at the OOR are unsure of the website’s owner and operator. 

Here is what you need to know in the event your municipality receives such a request: 

  • OOR Response: The OOR cannot provide specific legal advice on how to handle these anonymous RTKL requests. Its memo did specify that if an appeal is filed by the requester and that requester is deemed valid, your municipality will be able to justify your decision. 
  • Suspicious Requests: If your municipality receives a request that is flagged by your information technology professionals as spam or a phishing attempt, you have the authority to determine the appropriate course of action. 
  • Review Your Policy: The office recommended that agencies ensure their internal RTKL policies are clear, especially those sections that specify when requests will be accepted and rejected. If you do not accept anonymous public information requests, publish this policy “prominently” on your website. 

The OOR is expected to publish Final Determinations once appeals involving FOIA Buddy requests are processed. We will share updates with you then. 

In the meantime, it is worth noting that in three recent Final Determinations, the office has issued consistent findings: If requesters do not sufficiently demonstrate that they are legal U.S. residents, they do not meet the definition of a requester under Pennsylvania’s RTKL. 

  • “Ryan” v. Cumberland County, OOR Dkt. AP 2024-0349: Even though the requester gave a first name and Pennsylvania zip code, there is nothing to show that he or she actually lives in the U.S. Therefore, the request is considered anonymous and the OOR cannot make Cumberland County respond. 
  • “John Doe” v. Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, OOR Dkt. AP 2024-0543: The requester did not show the required proof of U.S. residency, so the request is considered anonymous and invalid under the RTKL. 
  • “Anonymous” v. Downingtown Area School District, OOR Dkt. AP 2023-2329: The requester, again, did not offer evidence that he or she resides in the U.S. and the request is considered anonymous and invalid.