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4. Can the requester choose a format for receiving records?


  • Alabama

    In Birmingham News Co. v. Perry, 21 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 2125 (Cir. Ct. of Montgomery Co., Ala., July 22, 1993), the trial court ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles to produce motor vehicle records in computer form, as requested — and as generated by the Department for its own use. The trial court quoted with approval an Ohio Supreme Court opinion, as follows:

    "[M]embers of the public should not be required 'to exhaust their energy and ingenuity to gather information which is already compiled and organized in a document created by public officials at public expense.' Similarly, a public agency should not be permitted to require the public to exhaust massive amounts of time and resources in order to replicate the value added to the public records through the creation and storage on tape of a data base containing such records."

    Id. at 2126 (quoting Ohio ex rel. Margolius v. Cleveland, 19 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 2122, 2124 (Ohio S. Ct. 1992) (effective Sept. 13, 1997, access to MVRs is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 2721).

    The Alabama attorney general has declared, however, that

    [i]t is not [a public agency's] responsibility or duty to provide the information to [the requester] in a particular form nor must [the agency] necessarily compile or assimilate the information for the public. Your responsibility is to provide reasonable access to the information and for the information to be a reasonable form (e.g. legible copies if possible or in regular language rather than a code form a person outside the office would not be familiar with).

    Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. No. 88-00079 at 5 (Dec. 16, 1987) (diskette of personnel data requested; the requested data need not be provided in that particular form); see also Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. No. 2007-001, 2006 Ala. AG LEXIS 119 (Oct. 2, 2006) (“Because a state agency may regulate the manner in which public records are produced, inspected, and copied, a state agency . . . is not required to distribute public records in the manner that a requestor specifies.”) The requestor may use its own equipment to generate copies of records as long as the chosen method does not unduly interfere with the operations of the requestee.  Ala. Att’y Gen. Op. 76 (June 10, 2009).

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  • California

    Yes, if the information requested is in an electronic format, the agency shall make that information available in any electronic format in which it holds the information or, if requested, in a format used by the agency to create copies for its own use or for provision to other agencies. Cal. Gov't Code § 6253.9(a). If the request is for non-electronic records and the agency also has the information available in electronic format, the agency may inform the requester that the information is also available in electronic format. Cal. Gov’t Code § 6253.9(d). If the information is available in non-electronic format, an agency cannot make the information available only in electronic format. Cal. Gov’t Code § 6253.9(e). Section 6253.9 does not require release of records in electronic format where "release would jeopardize or compromise the security or integrity of the original record or any proprietary software in which it is maintained." Cal. Gov't Code § 6253.9(f).

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  • District of Columbia

    A public body making electronic records available must provide the records in any form or format requested, provided that the person requesting the records pays the costs of reproducing the record in that form or format. D.C. Code Ann. § 2-532(a-1).

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  • Georgia

    Under the Act, “[a] requester may request that electronic records, data, or data fields be produced in the format in which such data or electronic records are kept by the agency, or in a standard export format such as a flat file electronic American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) format, if the agency's existing computer programs support such an export format.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(f). “In such instance, the data or electronic records shall be downloaded in such format onto suitable electronic media by the agency.” Id.

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  • Iowa

    The right to copy a public record shall include the right to make photographs or photographic copies while the public record is in the possession of the custodian of the public record. Iowa Code § 22.2(1).

    A government body shall not acquire any electronic data processing system for the storage, manipulation, or retrieval of public records that would impair the government body's ability to permit the examination of a public record and the copying of a public record in either written or electronic form. Iowa Code § 22.3A(2).

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  • Kansas

    Generally, a requester can only choose a format in which the record is already held.  Any person has the right to obtain a computerized voter registration list in electronic format if the public agency has the capability of providing such record in electronic format. Kan. Att’y Gen. Op. 1988-152; see also K.S.A. 45-501.

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  • Massachusetts

    Yes, and the custodian must comply if the custodian “is able to provide information in a compatible format or medium.”  SPR Bulletin 3-96, “Application of the Public Records Law to Electronic Records Access” (June 6, 1996) at ¶ 6.  However, because a custodian need not provide information “in a format or medium which is compatible to every requester,” the custodian is not required to comply if the time or reprogramming necessary to accommodate a request in a specific format “is tantamount to creating a document, rather than segregating an existing record.” Id.; SPR Bulletin 4-96 (June 7, 1996). The custodian is only obliged to provide access to existing files, in their existing format, except where segregation is necessary. Guide to Massachusetts Public Records Law at 8 (Sec’y of State, rev. Mar. 2020), “The requester is then responsible for converting the data into the desired format.”  SPR Bulletin 3-96, at ¶ 6.

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  • Michigan

    Where a computer record exists, a requester generally has the right to the record in that form. See Farrell v. City of Detroit, 209 Mich. App. 7, 530 N.W.2d 105 (1995) ("In Michigan, these computer records constitute public records subject to disclosure under the FOIA."); Payne v. Grand Rapids Police Chief, 178 Mich. App. 193, 443 N.W.2d 481 (1989) (plaintiff entitled to copy of tape recording of 911 emergency calls, even where city offered to provide transcript of tape). But see Lapeer Cty. Abstract & Title v. Lapeer Cty. Register of Deeds, 264 Mich. App. 167, 691 N.W.2d 11 (2004) (public bodies are not required by the FOIA to provide microfilm copies rather than paper copies of the records at issue, even when the public body keeps the records on mircrofilm); see also Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.232(j) (software — which is not a public record — excludes "computer-stored information or data, or a field name if disclosure of that field name does not violate a software license").

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  • New Mexico

    Yes.  "Public records" is broadly defined, NMSA 1978 § 14-2-6(G) (2013), and no specific restrictions as to the requested format exist, but the public body has discretion when responding to a request for public information in a certain format.  NMSA 1978 § 14-2-9(A) (2013) allows the public body to provide a hard copy partial printout of data containing the public information if "necessary to preserve the integrity of the computer data or the confidentiality of exempt information." A records custodian is required to provide a copy of a public record in electronic format if the “public record is available in electronic format and an electronic copy is specifically requested.”  NMSA 1978 § 14-2-9(B) (2013).  A custodian is only required to provide an electronic record in the file format in which it exists at the time of the request.  Id.  Additionally, NMSA 1978 § 14-3-15.1(A) (1995) provides specifically that "information contained in information systems databases shall be a public record," but some restrictions and variations on access to this information exist, including the payment of a "reasonable fee."  See also NMSA § 14-3-18 (2005), (statute regarding county and municipal database information).  The New Mexico Court of Appeals has held that a public agency has no duty to produce computer database records in electronic format if the party requesting the information is unwilling to enter into an agreement as set forth by § 14-3-15.1(C).  Crutchfield v. N.M. Dep't. of Taxation and Revenue, 2005-NMCA-22, ¶¶ 18-27.

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  • Vermont

    If an agency maintains public records in an electronic format, the requester may choose to receive the copies in either electronic format or paper format. 1 V.S.A. § 316(i).  An agency may, but is not required to, convert paper public records to electronic format. Id.  The Vermont Supreme Court has noted that nothing in the Act “prevents a public agency from contractually binding itself to provide electronic versions of documents in a specified format in return for sufficient consideration.”  Blum v. Friedman, 172 Vt. 622, 624-25, 782 A.2d 1204, 1207 (Vt. 2001).

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  • Wisconsin

    Generally speaking, a requester has the right, with respect to any "record which is not in a readily comprehensible form," to receive a copy of the information "assembled and reduced to written form on paper." Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(e); see also State ex rel. Milwaukee Police Ass'n v. Jones, 237 Wis. 2d 840, 852, 615 N.W.2d 190, 196 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (holding that police department must make digital audio tape of 911 call available for inspection and copying, and that provision of analog tape alone is not sufficient compliance with request). A requester is entitled to copies of emails in electronic form. Lueders v. Krug, 2019 WI App 36, 388 Wis. 2d 147, 931 N.W.2d 898.

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