Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

Sunshine Advisory

A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws

By Attorney General Tom Miller -- October 2002

Public Access to Electronic Records

From the largest government agency to the smallest school board, public bodies in Iowa increasingly are creating and storing public records electronically. How does this new technology affect public access to records? How should the public body charge for copies of electronic records? What if an electronic record contains both public and confidential information?

Here are legal guidelines to assure proper public access to electronic records:

  • Iowa's Public Records Law applies to records stored or preserved in any form, including electronic records. (Iowa Code Ch. 22.) The public's right to examine and copy records applies whether a record is on paper or stored in a computer. However, access to a record does not include access to the computer on which the record is stored.

  • The public may request copies of electronic records in electronic form. The public may chose to receive an electronic or paper copy of an electronic record. Electronic copies must be provided in a format usable with commonly available data processing or data base management software.

  • Copies of electronic records generally must be produced at a cost not exceeding the reasonable cost of reproducing and transmitting the record. If a person requests a record that requires special processing to produce (such as a compilation of records that requires special programming), a public body can charge the cost of the special processing.

  • If electronic records contain some information that is open to the public and some that is confidential, the public body must devise a way to make the public information accessible, while shielding the confidential information. When public bodies are purchasing or designing software, they should do advance planning to accommodate ready public access to electronic records.

Officials and citizens alike should be familiar with the rules for providing electronic records in order to assure efficient, open access to public records.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office - toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)

"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins are designed to give information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws - our "Sunshine Laws." Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney

Iowa Attorney General's Office: Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.

On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org . Sunshine Advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens.