Are there special rules for computerized records?
In 1995 the N.C. General Assembly amended the Public Records Law to facilitate public access to computerized records. First, the General Assembly said that persons requesting copies of public records may 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.” A public agency is not required to convert paper records to electronic format, but it is often more efficient and less costly for agencies to provide documents to requesters electronically.
The Public Records Law also provides access to computerized databases held by government agencies. Agencies are required to ensure that they do not “purchase, lease, create, or otherwise acquire any electronic data-processing system for the storage, manipulation, or retrieval of public records” that in any way impairs or impedes the public’s access to such databases. Furthermore, each public agency must create an index of the computer databases it has compiled or created. The indexes are public records and must include at least the following information: “a list of the data fields, a description of the format or record layout, information as to the frequency with which the database is updated, a list of any data fields to which public access is restricted, a description of each form in which the database can be copied or reproduced using the agency’s computer facilities, and a schedule of fees for the production of copies in each available form.” Agencies are not required to disclose software security measures such as passwords. Requests for copies of computer databases may need to be made in writing. The custodian of the database must respond “as promptly as possible,” and if the request is granted, the copies should be provided “as soon as reasonably possible.” If your request is denied, an explanation must be given, and it must be given in writing, if you so request.