FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

George Cuartero,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 87-192

 

Town Clerk of the Town of New Milford,

 

Respondent December 9, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 5, 1987, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found:

 

1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. On June 11, 1987, the complainant, by telephone, requested access to copy tax lien files and other records related to local real estate transactions (hereinafter "land records index") and scheduled an appointment for June 15, 1987.

 

3. On June 15, 1987, the complainant sought and was denied a copy of the land records index on a computer diskette.

 

4. By letter of complaint dated July 6, 1987, and filed with the Commission on July 7, 1987, the complainant alleged the respondent violated the Freedom of Information Act in her failure to provide the complainant with a copy of the land records index on a computer diskette.

 

5. The respondent claims that:

 

a. Under 1-19a, G.S., she is obliged only to provide the complainant with a printout of computer stored data and such printout is the equivalent of providing access to the land records index on a computer diskette.

 

Docket #FIC 87-192 Page 2

 

b. A public agency has no obligation to accommodate a complainant's preference regarding the medium of the data requested and need only provide responsive non-exempt information in a reasonably accessible form.

 

c. Her computer system was overloaded at the time of the complainant's request and she was concerned that any attempt to comply with that request would result in the loss of data.

 

6. At the hearing, the complainant clarified his request, stating he sought the most recent land records index.

 

7. It is found the records sought do not include computer programs or application software.

 

8. It also is found the respondent is responsible for managing the Town of New Milford's computer land records index.

 

9. It further is found a company provides the town with a computer index system for its land records and a license to utilize its software.

 

10. It further is found the respondent tranfers the land record index from the computer to diskettes daily, while simultaneously, the computer software generates a backup of the data to prevent any loss of information. The diskettes then are sent to the company referred to in paragraph 9, above, for further editing, analysis, processing and storage before they are returned to the respondent.

 

11. It further is found the land records index currently is stored in the respondent's data base and can be retrieved without creating a specially designed program or obtaining additional technical assistance.

 

12. Under 1-19(a), G.S., a public agency is required to provide a person, as requested, with a copy of a non-exempt public record in accordance with the provisions of 1-15, G.S. 1-18a(d), G.S., defines a public record as "any recorded data or information . . . whether such data or information be handwritten, typed . . . or recorded by any other method."

 

13. It therefore is concluded the land records index maintained in the respondent's computer storage system is a public record within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S., and subject to the provisions of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 87-192 Page 3

 

14. It is found the respondent has compiled a temporary land records index by creating daily computer printouts of the data contained on the diskettes. The computer printouts are available to the public for inspection and copying and contain the same information as that on the diskettes.

 

15. It is found, however, the estimated cost of copying the computer printout of the requested land records index is seventy-five dollars, while the estimated cost of copying the requested index onto a computer diskette is five to ten dollars.

 

16. It also is found there is a substantial difference in cost to the complainant depending on the medium of disclosure of the requested land records index.

 

17. It is concluded that 1-19a, G.S., does not limit expressly the medium of disclosure of public records maintained on a computer storage system to a printout nor does it authorize the respondent to choose the medium of disclosure of public records. The respondent's claim as set forth in paragraph 5a, above, therefore, is without merit.

 

18. It also is concluded the respondent is obliged to provide the complainant with a copy of the land records index on the medium requested, with the complainant bearing the actual cost of copying the requested land records index onto a computer diskette. The respondent's claim as set forth in paragraph 5b, above, therefore, is without merit.

 

19. It further is concluded the respondent's claim set forth in paragraph 5c, above, does not fall within any of the statutory exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act for withholding public records.

 

20. Consequently, it is concluded the respondent violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide the complainant with a copy of the requested land records index on a computer diskette.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

 

1. The respondent shall forthwith provide the complainant with a copy of the requested land records index on a computer diskette for which the complainant shall bear the actual cost.

 

Docket #FIC 87-192 Page 4

 

2. In complying with paragraph 1 of the order, above, the complainant may provide the respondent with an appropriate number of suitable diskettes on which to copy the requested land records index.

 

3. In complying with paragraph one of the order, the respondent may need not disclose any copyrighted software.

 

4. Henceforth, the respondent shall act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of December 9, 1987.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission