State open-records practices are (gradually) getting as smart as your phone

In what’s being hailed as a “game-changer” for citizen watchdogs, Arizona’s attorney general says government agencies shouldn’t impose fees for inspecting public records and making copies with your own electronic device.

Attorney General Tom Horne’s Dec. 2 interpretation says the Arizona Public Records Law doesn’t allow state, county or city agencies (including public schools and colleges) to charge requesters for copies they make themselves with smartphones or hand-held scanners.

Horne also says agencies can’t assess a copying fee just for making a duplicate of a document for a requester to look at. In other words, if the agency doesn’t keep its documents in a way that’s easily accessible for public inspection, that is the agency’s fault, and the requester shouldn’t bear the expense.

As we wrote in October, there’s a growing consensus that government agencies should charge copying fees only when they actually, you know, make copies. Statutes in Florida and Connecticut explicitly say so, as does a 2004 court interpretation in Louisiana.

This just makes sense. Government agencies shouldn’t be profiteering from work that doesn’t really cost anything extra — or imposing excessive fees as a deterrent to dissuade journalists from nosing into the public’s business.

If you’re being told you can’t take smartphone photos of public records, let the Student Press Law Center know,