Free Public Records
Free public records are documents or information that are not considered confidential. Although public records are records of public business, they are not necessarily available without restriction, although Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) that has been gradually introduced in many jurisdictions since the 1960s has made access easier. Each government has policies and regulations that govern the availability of information contained in public records.
Courts and government agencies at all levels of government – local, state, and federal – are increasingly making public records available on web sites.
Although public records are records of public business, they are not necessarily available without restriction. 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.
Access to US national public records is guided by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Requests for access to records pursuant to FOIA may be refused by federal agencies if information requested is subject to exemption, or some information may be redacted (deleted).
One of the most challenging public policy issues of our time is the balancing act between access to public records and personal privacy – the difficulty of accommodating both personal privacy interests and the public interest of transparent government.
There are two ways public records are accessible electronically. Some jurisdictions post them on their government web sites, thereby providing free or low-cost access to records. Government agencies and courts also sell their public files to commercial data compilers and information brokers. They in turn make public records available on a fee basis, either via web or by special membership based sites.