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Are computerized records treated the same as public records on paper?

Question: 

Are computerized records treated the same as public records on paper?

Answer: 

Yes, Iowa defines public records (22.1) to include “all records, documents, tape, or other information, stored or preserved in any medium . . .,” a definition that plainly includes electronic data. Further, Section 22.3A addresses several issues regarding access to data processing software and public records.

So far, court decisions and common sense suggest the following:

  1. A government agency cannot force a requester to take or pay for a computerized record in a prohibitive or expensive format. Chapter 22.3 limits the fees that agencies may charge for records to the actual cost of providing the service.
  2. Simply because information could be available via a government computer does not make the information a public record. Government agencies do not have to create data through cross tabulations or selective analysis of data. They could do so if the requester is willing to pay for the staff time.  An advisory opinion by the Iowa Public Information Board (Dec. 18, 2014) said that there is no obligation for a government body to provide information in a form other than that which exists at the time of the request.  However, the IPIB urged "a cooperative approach as a best practice" that fulfills the legislative objective of access to public information.
  3. The record custodian should be the agency that generated the record in the first place and not the computer processor or administrative unit that oversees computer services for a public agency.
  4. In Iowa, the law provides no distinction between a citizen's right to access information stored on paper or stored electronically.
  5. With a few exceptions, Iowa law treats all records requests the same. That is, it doesn't make any difference who the requester is or whether he or she intends to use the record for personal or commercial use.

Printed from the website on December 04, 2020 at 3:05am.