Generally speaking, a public entity is not required to create a public record when it does not already exist just because someone asks for a particular record pursuant to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. This is a good policy. Responding to FOI requests can be a lot of work for cities and agencies. Creating entirely new records would be even more work.
But what about print-outs from computer databases? All the “information” contained in the databases exists and is generally subject to a FOI request, but people usually don’t use — or ask for — an entire database. They ask for a list of X, Y, and Z that may not already exist, but is contained within a database that can be readily searched for X, Y, and Z.
So is a public agency required to search a database in response to a FOI request? The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission says it does.
The Commission recently dealt with this issue when Department of Revenue Services declined to provide any records in response to a request for a copy of a seniority list as of a certain that that was available through the state’s payroll system. The requester identified the system directly and even provided the precise 13-step process for producing the list when he DOR denied his request because the FOI request was for the “the request of a record that does not exist.”
The Commission quickly dispatched the DOR’s response, citing Connecticut General Statutes § 1-211, which states that:
Any public agency which maintains public records in a computer storage system shall provide, to any person making a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of any nonexempt data contained in such records, properly identified, on paper, disk, tape or any other electronic storage device or medium requested by the person, if the agency can reasonably make such copy or have such copy made.
The case is Findley v. Law, Doc. No. FIC 2009-093 (June 25, 2009). It be be read in full here.