Court finds no online electronic rights to public records
GEORGIA — There is no right under the state’s Open Records law to receive public records over a personal computer or modem, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in mid- September.
“While we are mindful that the prevalence of computers in homes, offices and schools may make on-line access to computerized public records desirable, requiring that means of access must be addressed by the General Assembly,” the court wrote.
The court also noted that Georgia’s Open Records Law had been amended as recently as this year without addressing access by personal computer.
Freelance journalist Jack Jersawitz tried over the course of several months to convince Juanita Hicks, clerk of the Fulton Superior Court in Atlanta, to provide the county’s computerized database of real estate deed records on line so that he could call it up on his personal computer. Jersawitz said a tape or disk was of little use since he could not update it on a day-to-day basis.
Hicks ultimately refused to put the records on line. She noted that Georgia’s open records law addresses the provision of computer tapes and disks, stating that agencies “may” charge actual costs of providing information on them, but it does not address on-line access at all, she said.
In March 1993 Jersawitz sued Hicks in Fulton County Superior Court, seeking to force her to make the records available on line. The court ruled in favor of Hicks and Jersawitz appealed.
Jersawitz has asked the high court to reconsider, noting that the county has begun putting other databases on line in order to make money from public information provided in an electronic format.
In September Hicks announced that civil and criminal court records and calendars will be available for a one-time $300 hookup charge and $75 per month in fees, adding that she is planning more such projects. Records of judicial proceedings have not been held subject to Georgia’s Open Records Act.
(Jersawitz v. Hicks; pro se)