With temperatures wavering in Arizona's autumn season, the state Supreme Court is keeping the sun shining brightly on Arizona government. The Justices ruled on October 29 that information automatically stored in electronic files, like creation date and edit history, is open to the public.
The case, Lake v. City of Phoenix, was filed because the city refused to release a document's "metadata," which reveals who accessed the file and when, print dates, authors, and changes to a document.
Under state public records law, the public has a right to see all records of official activities. Specifically, the public has the right to see the original record, not just a paper copy. The Court ruled, "When a public officer uses a computer to make a public record, the metadata forms part of the document as much as the words on the page."
The Court further explained that the decision would not create the "administrative nightmare" the city insisted. Officials can easily fulfill their duties under the law by simply providing the public with copies of records in their "native" (i.e., electronic) form-a task that may be even easier than printing hardcopies.
This decision is a victory for sunshine laws in Arizona. Unfortunately, some governments and agencies continue to turn the shades on public view. Many months after Glendale negotiations began over possible subsidies to keep the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team in town, taxpayers are still in the dark about even the barest details of what, or how much taxpayer money the city has offered to give away.
The Goldwater Institute will continue to push for transparency in government. We provide a number of tools on our website to help guide citizens in making effective public records requests and will continue to turn the spotlight on when cities try to make deals in darkness.
Carrie Ann Sitren is an attorney with the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation
Goldwater Institute: FOIA Facts
Arizona Daily Star: Ruling: Public records include all the embedded electronic info