February 21, 2007
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you raised questions relating to the Freedom of Information Law.
You wrote that your company markets TRACView, “an Internet based application and service that was developed to help law enforcement agencies” and others “manage and access traffic accident reports in a more efficient manner”, and that consumers can purchase accident reports “on-line for a fee.” You wrote that some agencies “are concerned about the current law that requires agencies to sell reports for $.25/page.” You asked that I “address that issue” and whether if agencies “continue to offer the $.25/page service can they be compensated more from consumers electing to purchase a report via the Internet or are they limited to only $.25/page compensation?”
In this regard, §87(1)(b)(iii) of the Freedom of Information Law pertains to fees for copies of records and states that:
“the fees for copies of records...shall not exceed twenty-five cents per photocopy not in excess of nine inches by fourteen inches, or the actual cost of reproducing any record, except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute.”
Based on the foregoing, when a request is made for a photocopy of a record maintained by or for an agency, the agency cannot charge more than twenty-five cents, unless a different statute authorizes an agency to charge a higher fee. I do not believe any statute authorizes a municipality or its police or sheriff’s department to charge more than twenty-five cents per photocopy when accident reports are requested.
Second, there is nothing in the Freedom of Information Law that requires that agencies post records on the internet. In most instances, agencies do so as a public service, due to public interest in a variety of matters, or for purposes of convenience. Again, however, there is no obligation to make records available online. When agencies choose to do so, I know of no law that precludes an agency from limiting access, i.e., to subscribers to such a service, or from charging a fee different from that envisioned by the Freedom of Information Law. By making records available on line via the internet, I believe that an agency effectively exceeds any requirement imposed by the Freedom of Information Law. That being so, I do not believe that an agency’s charge for use of such a service is limited to the fee applicable under the Freedom of Information Law.
Lastly, as you may be aware, a recent amendment to the Freedom of Information Law requires that agencies accept requests made by means of email and transmit records via email when they have the ability to do so. When records are made available by means of email, no copy is made, and in my opinion, no fee may be charged in that instance.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman