Arkansas citizens can photograph public documents under FOIA

Citizens who request access to public documents under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act have the right to photograph those documents using their cellphones, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

By a 5-1 decision, the appellate court sided with Ben Motal, a Little Rock attorney who had argued against a city policy prohibiting him from photographing records related to a hit-and-run accident in which Motal said he was the victim.

Motal said the Little Rock Police Department allowed him to review the accident report, and offered to make him a copy for $10, but would not allow him to take a picture of the report using his smartphone. That decision violated the Freedom of Information law, which states that public records “shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen” of Arkansas, he argued.

“My understanding of the law was always as it was interpreted in the decision: that copying included taking pictures with a smartphone and your own device,” Motal said in a brief interview after the court’s decision.

Little Rock City Attorney Thomas Carpenter said Wednesday that the appellate court’s ruling was a “legislative decision,” and that he would ask the city’s Board of Directors to appeal the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court. (Read more)