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October 1, 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.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens 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.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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