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June 21, 2017

Electronic data are government records in New Jersey, court rules

New Jersey cannot refuse access to data stored in a database, state Supreme Court rules

Courts Technology
Courts File Art/for PhillyVoice


In a unanimous victory for open records, New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled that information in electronic databases are a public record.

The court on Tuesday found that Galloway Township in South Jersey had wrongly denied access to email between its town clerk and the chief of police.

John Paff, a public records advocate, had sought the information and been denied by the Atlantic County town. A trial court judge sided with Paff, but an appellate panel had agreed with the denial.

Galloway argued it did not need to supply the data because under the Open Public Records Act it did not need to create a record. Galloway claimed extracting the data would mean creating a new record, which it does not need to do under state records law.

"If it's in a government database, it is a government record," Paff said of the decision.

Last year, when the case was filed, Paff explained a record no longer means just paper.

Justice Barry Albin agreed in his majority opinion.

"OPRA makes clear that government records consist of not only hard-copy books and paper documents housed in file cabinets or on shelves, but also 'information stored or maintained electronically' in a database on a municipality's server," the justice wrote.