The Inspection of Public Records Act, IPRA, is clear that whether a document is in paper or electronic form, it is still a public record and subject to inspection. In a growing number of cases, public records may only be available in electronic form. IPRA 14-2-9 C limits charges for paper documents to no more than $1.00 per printed page, though even that statutory provision is high, enacted a number of years ago when copy machines and copies were more expensive.
In regard to electronic documents, IPRA allows a custodian to charge the actual costs associated with downloading copies of public records to a computer disk or storage device as well as the actual costs associated with transmitting copies of public records by electronic mail. The statute does not impose a cap on those costs or fees.
FOG has received a number of complaints over the past few months about excessive charges for electronic copies. Some state agencies and county offices charge up to 25 cents per page for an electronic copy, even when the requestor provides his or her own thumb drive or disk. None of these public bodies, however, has been able to explain or show a breakdown of that cost calculation.
FOG has sent letters and talked with officials protesting such exorbitant fees, which do not satisfy the statutory mandate of “actual costs.” There is no cost for paper or ink. The statute does not expressly permit charges for personnel time. (FOG’s position is that personnel time can never be included in responding to IPRA requests since part of the duties of a records custodian is to assemble and make documents available for public inspection) Any actual costs for copying or transmitting electronic documents should be de minimus.
FOG is interested in learning how much public bodies are charging for electronic records. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. What do you think is a reasonable charge?
Remember, if a citizen merely wants to inspect a public record, there should be no cost. Records custodians can either provide a computer to the requestor or print out the documents for review. Unless the requestor wants a copy, there should be no charge for mere inspection of documents.