A Public Records Request for an Electronic Record When the Record Exists Only in Paper Form

A North Carolina county sent us a great query: “We received a records request for a public record. The request asks for that record in an electronic format. However, that record exists in our office only in paper. Do we still have to provide it electronically?”

We replied that, if your office has the capability to provide the paper record electronically, you must do so. For example, if your office has a printer with scanning functionality, you would scan the paper record and save the image as a .TIFF or .PDF file, which you would then provide to the requester either by email or on a CD/DVD. However, if your office does not have the means to convert the paper record into an electronic format, you do not have to do so.

What is our basis for this reply? N.C. General Statute 132-6.2 says “Persons requesting copies of public records may elect to obtain them in any and all media in which the public agency is capable of providing them. No request for copies of public records in a particular medium shall be denied on the grounds that the custodian has made or prefers to make the public records available in another medium.”

So, if your agency is capable of providing public records in a requested format, it must do so.