Opinion: Colorado Open Records Act goes ‘native’

The Durango Herald: Important changes to the Colorado Open Records Act went into effect last month. So, what does it mean and why do we care?

CORA is the law allowing the public to access government records. For example, in wage-theft cases, digital information from the Colorado Department of Labor where a violation is found is available to the public under CORA, and may establish a pattern of employer abuse. The most substantial change is now electronically stored information must be made available to the public in the format in which it was created, referred to as “native” format, where hidden data or “metadata” resides.

Examples of commonly created native files include: Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, pptx) and Outlook (pst, ost, msg). In some cases, native file formats require software tools (e-Discovery) to process and convert all metadata to become fully searchable. Before this amendment, records could be produced in any format the agency wanted, often non-searchable or sortable, such as paper hard copy.

Metadata helps us use and interpret information beyond what is seen in hard copy. Specifically, it is stored information, which, depending on file format, can provide data such as date created, author, who changed it and when, and the validity of documents and files. For example, digital photographs – including from cellphones – carry dozens of embedded fields such as date and time taken, the camera type, settings, exposure, lighting and even precise geolocation data.

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