N.C. experimenting with allowing public access to records by computer
NORTH CAROLINA — Two agencies are providing citizens access to computer records during a nine-month trial period recently begun. After an assessment of how much this new policy costs the state departments of Administration and Transportation, the governor may extend it to all executive agencies.
The new policy became effective in late January when Gov. James Hunt signed an executive order calling for the test, and recognizing that virtually all state government records are maintained on electronic, computerized data bases.
The order comes after a series of unsuccessful legislative efforts in 1993 to improve citizen access to computerized public records. Those efforts were derailed when local government lobbyists gave high cost estimates for reprogramming computers and assigning clerical workers to fulfill requests.
The order requires the agencies to inform the public what information is stored in computer data bases. Within three months, the agencies are to create initial lists of all public electronic information. Within a year, the agencies must develop a register of data bases, including descriptions of records and fee schedules for copying.
The order makes it impossible for agencies to use two common excuses for denying requests for information. First, the agencies cannot deny a request for existing electronic records on the grounds that they prefer to give out information in another form. Second, the agencies cannot deny a request on the grounds that confidential information is commingled with the requested non- confidential information. Rather, the agency must bear the cost of separating confidential information.
The order also limits charges for discs or tapes of electronic information to “actual costs.” An agency may only charge an additional fee, including labor or overhead, in extraordinary circumstances.
(Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr., Exec. Order No. 37 (1994))