Public records refers to information that has been filed or recorded by public agencies, such as corporate and property records. Public records are created by the federal and local government, (vital records, immigration records, real estate records, driving records, criminal records, etc.) or by the individual. Public records can also be considered any mail or communication between state agencies and those in the legislature. Other sets of commonly demanded public records are those relating to financial documents for government programs. Availability is determined by federal, state, and local regulations.
Public records are held in physical files. Many public records are available via Internet or other sources; even though public records are indeed "public," their accessibility is not always simple, free or easy. Some states such as California have separate policies that govern the availability of information contained in public records. The PRA or public records act states that "except for certain explicit exceptions, personal information maintained about an individual may not be disclosed without the person's consent."
Evaluating government websites
- The name of the open records or FOIA compliance officer.
- Contact information (telephone number and e-mail address) for the FOIA compliance officer or other employee who handles open records requests.
- Any forms or instructions on how to submit a request for a government entity.
Public records in the United States
Access to public records in the US at the federal level is guided by the Freedom of Information Act (United States) (FOIA). Each state has its own version of FOIA. For example, in Colorado there is the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) and in New Jersey the law is known as the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. There are many degrees of accessibility to public records between states, with some making it fairly easy to request and receive documents, and others with many exemptions and restricted categories of documents.
- Cross-state comparison of FOIA laws\
- The WikiFOIA
- The Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri
- The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida
- The Open Government Guide of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press
- The National Freedom of Information Coalition
- Unites States government's official web portal NOT A PUBLIC RECORDS WEBSITE
- Community based website offering free membership, how-to articles, and resources for locating public records online.