State Capitol News
Thu October 29, 2009
Court expands state's public records law
By Howard Fischer
Phoenix, AZ – A new ruling today by the state Supreme Court expands what
individuals can demand in public records. Arizona Public Radio's
Howard Fischer explains.
State law already is clear that documents created by public
officials are public records. But requests for copies usually
result in print-outs. And that doesn't contain metadata --
essentially electronic tidbits the computer puts in the file with
things like the date of creation. In its precedent-setting ruling
the high court said that metadata is part of the record. On the
surface, that means the public can get an electronic copy and
see, for example, if it was back-dated. But Dan Barr, attorney
for the First Amendment Coalition, said this is a crucial victory
in other ways, as more and more documents are created on -- and
stored in -- computers.
"It'll be both cheaper and quicker to produce the public records
and to pay for the public. A lot of public bodies, and the city
of Phoenix is certainly one of them, refuse to provide documents
in their electronic form and instead say, no, you have to pay for
them all in paper form which makes it more expensive for the
requestor to get the records."
Barr said the ruling also means people will be able to get
information its original database format rather than a paper
print-out, making it far easier to do research and comparisons of
things like which area of town, and even which intersections,
have the most crime.