The public is not entitled to the electronic data that shows when a something that is a public record has been created, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. In a divided decision, the majority said the electronic tags that word-processing programs attach to files and documents are not part of the file or document itself.
Judge Michael Brown said that information makes it exempt from state laws defining what records are public. Brown, writing the majority ruling, said that hidden electronic information does not fit within the various definitions of what constitutes a public record.
But Judge Patricia Norris said her colleagues were creating a major loophole in the state's public records law, one she said could allow government agencies to hide crucial information.
Central to the fight is what is known as "metadata," information a computer uses to keep track of a document based on things like its creation date and who has accessed it. That information is not translated onto paper when the document is printed out. Attorney Dan Barr, who represents the First Amendment Coalition, said the majority ruling shows a "misunderstanding" by the judges of the nature of records.
In this case, someone seeking information from the Phoenix Police Department wanted to see not just the document but the metadata to determine whether the date printed on the document - the date it was supposedly created - was, in fact, the date it was written. The metadata would show whether the document was back-dated.