Thursday, September 11, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Copy That—Charging for Data Requests (9/11)

Question: We just received a request for pages and pages of information we keep offsite. None of the information being requested is about the requester in particular. What can or can’t we charge for as we prepare to respond?

Answer: Cities are frequently asked for information or data, and sometimes a lot of it. What a city may charge in responding to the request will always depend on a few things. One thing that matters is whether the requester is the “subject of the data.” Charges to data subjects is slightly different. In this case the requestor is not the subject of the data.

First thing's first
When figuring out what to charge for any data request, the first thing to ask is, does the person want copies of the information, or do they just want to take a look at it there in the office? If the person merely wants to take a look at the information and doesn’t wish the city to make copies, then there can be no charge to the requestor. Inspection is always free.

If the person requesting the data is not the subject of the data and either wants the city to make them copies or wants the city to electronically transmit copies, regardless of the form of the data, there are two basic cost structures in law:
  • If the request for copies is met with as many as 100 black and white pages of letter- or legal- sized paper, the most the city may charge for the request is a quarter a page.
  •  If the request cannot be met with 100 pages, the city may charge the actual costs of searching for and retrieving the information, including the cost of employee time, and for making, certifying, and electronically transmitting the copies of the information.
Remember, cities can never charge the person requesting information for city time spent separating public from non-public information. However, if it looks like the city will be charging a hefty sum to fill the request, there’s nothing wrong with having a policy of requiring pre-payment from the requestor.

Couple o' resources: 

LMC Information Memo—Data Practices: Analyze, Classify and Respond
Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)—Video: IPAD’s guide to copy costs
Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)—IPAD web page dedicated to copy costs

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: ecadman@lmc.org or (651) 281-1229.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

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