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Lake v. Phoenix

Case number:
222 Ariz. 547, 218 P.3d 1004 (2009)
Country:
United States
Date of decision:
30 October 2009
Court / Arbiter:
Supreme Court of Arizona top appellate state court, decision not subject to further challenge ( Supreme )

Relevant law :

Decision:

City was obliged to disclose metadata (electronic information concerning the history of an electronic document) pursuant to state freedom of information law.


Keywords:
Electronic information (including websites, metadata, email, audio, visual and other records)
RTI law
Sub-national government bodies (including municipal, state, provincial)

Case details:

Facts

Mr. Lake, a police officer, requested from the City disclosure of the metadata (electronic information describing the history of an electronic document, i.e., the creation date, how often the document was accessed, etc.) attached to electronic documents regarding his work performance prepared by his supervisor. Mr. Lake made this request in the context of an employment discrimination lawsuit in which he suspected that the city backdated the paper copies provided. The City did not contest that the content of the documents constituted a public record, but contended that the metadata does not qualify as a public record subject to disclosure requirements. The two lower courts ruled in favor of the city (paras. 2-5).

Decision

The Supreme Court of Arizona ruled that where public records are maintained in electronic format, the electronic information, including the metadata, is subject to public disclosure (paras. 1, 14). The court recognized the metadata as “part of the underlying document . . . as much as the words on the page.” The court called it “illogical” and in conflict with the law’s “policy of openness” to require that information handwritten on a document would be subject to public disclosure whereas the same information electronically embedded could be withheld (para. 13). The court explicitly rejected the city’s assertion that this ruling would create an “administrative nightmare" (para. 15).

As background, the court recognized the State law on public records to require the maintenance of “all records . . . reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities . . .” (para. 9). The court also stated that the state definition of “public records” is broad but not all-inclusive of documents created by public entities: only documents which are substantially related to the state activities are subject to mandatory disclosure (para. 8).

Resources:

Judgment of the Court.