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

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  • Alabama

    In Birmingham News Co. v. Perry, 21 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 2125 (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Cnty., 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:

    It 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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  • Delaware

    The Act does not specifically address whether the requester may choose a format. Each public body that is required to allow public access to records is responsible for issuing its own rules and regulations regarding access to public records. Under Delaware corporate law, access to documents retained by the Secretary of State may only be issued as photocopies or electronic images. 8 Del. C. § 391(c).

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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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  • Florida

    Generally, access to computerized records is provided through the use of programs currently in use by the public official responsible for maintaining the public records. See Seigle v. Barry, 422 So. 2d 63, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982); see also Tampa Television, Inc. v. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 1993 WL 204090, at *2-3 (Fla. Cir. Ct. Feb. 11, 1993) (applying Seigle and stating that “[w]hile the public records act does not require [an agency] to compile lists or make special reports solely for [a requestor’s] benefit,” public records should be provided where they are “easily available” to the agency and “could have been produced at a minimum of time or expense”). An agency must provide a copy of the record in the medium requested if the agency maintains the record in that medium. Fla. Stat. § 119.01(2)(f). An agency has discretion to furnish electronic records in a format other than the format routinely used by the agency, but in that case the cost of converting the information shall be borne by the requester pursuant to section § 119.07(4). See Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 97-39 (1997) (“[A] school district is not required to furnish its electronic public records in an electronic format other than the standard format routinely maintained by the district. However, if the district elects to provide such records in a different format, the costs of converting the information shall be borne by the requestor pursuant to section 119.07(1)(b) . . . .”); Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 06-30 (2006) (“[A] municipality may respond to a public records request requiring the production of thousands of pages of documents by composing a static webpage where the responsive public documents are posted for viewing if the requesting party agrees to pay the administrative costs, in lieu of copying the documents at a much greater cost.”).

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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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  • Hawaii

    No, according to the OIP the appropriate format is determined on a case-by-case basis.

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  • Illinois

    Yes, the requester can choose a format for receiving records, if producing the records in that format is reasonably feasible. The Act provides state “[w]hen a person requests a copy of a record maintained in an electronic format, the public body shall furnish it in the electronic format specified by the requester, if feasible. If it is not feasible to furnish the public records in the specified electronic format, then the public body shall furnish it in the format in which it is maintained by the public body, or in paper format at the option of the requester.”  5 ILCS 140/6(a).

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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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  • Kentucky

    The requester may obtain a hard copy or an electronic copy of a public record if the record is stored in an electronic format. The agency is not required to convert a hard copy into an electronic file:

    Nonexempt public records used for noncommercial purposes shall be available for copying in either standard electronic or standard hard copy format, as designated by the party requesting the records where the agency currently maintains the records in electronic format. Nonexempt public records used for noncommercial purposes shall be copies in standard hard copy format where agencies currently maintain records in hard copy format. Agencies are not required to convert hard copy format records to electronic formats.

    Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.874(2)(a).

    If the requester asks for a hard copy, the agency cannot instead provide a copy on a computer disk: "[P]roduction of records in a format which renders them inaccessible, at least as to the person requesting them, constitutes a subversion of the law." 93-ORD-62.

    The standard format for electronic files is ASCII. See Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.874(2)(b). If the public agency's records are stored in a different format, the requester may accept a copy of the record in that format or request a hard copy:

    The minimum standard format in paper form shall be defined as not less than 8-1/2 inches x 11 inches in at least one (1) color on white paper, or for electronic format, in a flat file electronic American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) format. If the public agency maintains electronic public records in a format other than ASCII, and this format conforms to the requester's requirements, the public record may be provided in this alternate electronic format for standard fees as specified by the public agency. Any request for a public record in a form other than the forms described in this section shall be considered a nonstandardized request.

    Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.874(2)(b).

    If the requester desires an electronic format other than ASCII, and the public agency does not maintain the record in the requested format, the agency has the choice of complying with this request and charging the requester for its time and expenses:

    If a public agency is asked to produce a record in a nonstandardized format, or to tailor the format to meet the request of an individual or a group, the public agency may at its discretion provide the requested format and recover staff costs as well as any actual costs incurred.

    Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.874(3).

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  • Louisiana

    No specific provision. The requestor can choose to receive electronic records in electronic format. St. Tammany Parish Coroner v. Doe, 48 So.3d 1241 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2010); Johnson v. City of Pineville, 9 So.3d 313 (La.App. 3d Cir. 2009).  But see Op. Atty Gen. 92-367 (custodian is not required to present information “in a specialized format”).

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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), https://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf. “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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  • Mississippi

    Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-10(2) provides: "A public body shall provide a copy of the record in the format requested if the public body maintains the record in that format."

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  • New Jersey

    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(d) provides:

    A custodian shall permit access to a government record and provide a copy thereof in the medium requested if the public agency maintains the record in that medium. If the public agency does not maintain the record in the medium requested, the custodian shall either convert the record to the medium requested or provide a copy in some other meaningful medium. If a request is for a record: (1) in a medium not routinely used by the agency; (2) not routinely developed or maintained by an agency; or (3) requiring a substantial amount of manipulation or programming of information technology, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special charge that shall be reasonable and shall be based on the cost for any extensive use of information technology, or for the labor cost of personnel providing the service, that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency for the programming, clerical, and supervisory assistance required, or both.

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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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  • Oklahoma

    The public body is not required to provide the record in any format other than that maintained by the public body. See 51 O.S. § 24A.18. An agency may convert the record into a requested electronic format but is not required to do so. 2012 OK AG 22. Public bodies are not required to email records requested. Wagner v. Office of Sheriff of Custer County, 2021 OK CIV APP 20.

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  • Oregon

    Yes, subject to practical limitations. ORS 192.324(3) (formerly ORS 192.440) states that if a record is maintained in electronic form, the custodian shall provide it in the form requested, if available; if the record is not available in the form requested, the public body shall make the record available in the form in which it is maintained.

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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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  • Virginia

    Public bodies must produce records maintained in an electronic database in any tangible medium identified by the requester, including, where the public body has the capability, the option of posting the records on a website or delivering the records through an electronic mail address provided by the requester, if that medium is used by the public body in the regular course of business. No public body is required to produce records from an electronic database in a format not regularly used by the public body. The public body must make reasonable efforts to provide records in any format under such terms and conditions as agreed between the requester and public body, including the payment of reasonable costs. The excision of exempt fields of information from a database or the conversion of data from one available format to another is not deemed the creation, preparation, or compilation of a new public record. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.G.

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  • Washington

    Washington law defines “public record” broadly to include electronic formats. RCW 42.56.010. There is no provision in the Act permitting agencies to limit the format in which public records may be examined or copied. Consequently, the requester can choose any available format for receiving the records. Although the PRA does not expressly require an agency to provide unredacted e-mails in an electronic format, an agency must do so where reasonable and feasible under the PRA’s “fullest assistance” provision (RCW 42.56.100). Mechling v. Monroe, 152 Wn. App. 830, 222 P.3d 808 (2009).

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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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