Metadata Associated with Public Records Are Themselves Public Records within Arizona Statute

From Lake v. City of Phoenix, 222 Ariz. 547, 218 P.3d 1004 (2009):

Arizona law provides that "[p]ublic records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours." Ariz. Rev. Stat. ("A.R.S.") § 39-121 (2001). The City of Phoenix denied a public records request for metadata in the electronic version of a public record. We today hold that if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records laws.

The metadata in an electronic document is part of the underlying document; it does not stand on its own. 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. Cf. Williams v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 230 F.R.D. 640, 652 (D. Kan. 2005) (noting, in discussing federal civil discovery rules, that "metadata is an inherent part of an electronic document."). Arizona's public records law requires that the requestor be allowed to review a copy of the "real record." *** It would be illogical, and contrary to the policy of openness underlying the public records laws, to conclude that public entities can withhold information embedded in an electronic document, such as the date of creation, while they would be required to produce the same information if it were written manually on a paper public record.

We accordingly hold that when a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, the electronic version of the record, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law.

See also our post of July 29, 2008, summarizing the Washington appellate court opinion coming to a similar conclusion under the Washington statute.

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