Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Arizona Court Rules Metadata Just as Public as Regular Data

THIS IS IMPORTANT YOU GUYS In an increasingly electronic world, metadata is becoming just as important as the data it describes.  Our iPods rely on it to tell us who sang our favorite songs.  Windows uses it to tell us creation dates and file sizes for everything from Excel documents to digital images.  The term “metadata” covers a wide range of information, so it’s critical we determine its more particular uses and applications.

Looks like the Arizona Supreme Court agrees.

Last week, Wired’s Threat Level blog wrote about an Arizona Supreme court ruling “that electronic metadata is part of the public record under state law.”  The particular case involved a Phoenix police officer suing the city on allegations of employment discrimination.  He’d filed a request to obtain some public documents for the case – performance reviews by his supervisor, etc.  Suspicious that the files had been backdated (perhaps tampered with), he requested the metadata and the city refused.

Two courts under the state Supreme Court ruled against the officer, claiming a difference between “record” and “public record.”  The city also complained that supplying such information would be time-consuming and inefficient.  Thankfully, the Supreme Court called shenanigans on both counts.  Justice W. Scott Bales wrote that metadata “is part of the underlying document; it does not stand on its own.”

It’s a landmark case in our digital age.  We can’t ignore the electronic fingerprints we leave on our files and documents.  This may prove pertinent in future government investigations or – as more artistic media make the digital leap – issues of authorship and copyright law.  Good on you, Arizona.