Public Records

Public Records information | PeopleSmart

Public Records

The Internet has widely increased access to public records. Though there is some controversy around the dissemination of public data, access to this information is beneficial to individuals and to society. Public records help address social problems and injustices involving child support, employment, identity theft, and consumer rights.

Due to the greater access of personal and governmental information, as well as information from private institutions and organizations, awareness around public record access is becoming increasingly important.

What is considered part of the public record?

Public records are comprised of reports that have been documented and recorded, often by public institutions. The information allows the government and individuals to assert claims and rights, as well as to protect individuals or entities.

Public records include:

  • census information
  • records of law court proceedings
  • birth and death records
  • marital documents
  • economic activity, including property ownership titles.

What is "confidential" versus "public" information?

Confidential documents contain information that are not available or readily accessible to the public. Conversely, a "public" record will be made available to the public once it has been recorded.

Public records include information, documents, and materials that are available within open domain.

What information is available in the public record?

Public records may originate from county court, state, or federal documents.

Part of Public Record

  • criminal history
  • marital history
  • family history
  • real estate records
  • driving records

May Also Include

  • taxes
  • consumer activity
  • business records

What business information is part of a public record?

In addition to personal information, some private entity information is accessible to the public. Consumer protection information, court dockets involving a criminal or civil matter involving a business, professional or business license information, and real estate information may be available to the public.

Who has access to public records?

Every county, state and federal agency has its own policies regarding the availability and access to information. Even information deemed as "public record" may have restrictions around public access. To view information about access policies on a state or county level, select a public records category from below:

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

U.S. federal records are controlled by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). States also have their own version of the FOIA which governs access to state public information. Access to public records between states varies, and there may be some restrictions depending on the type of document.

If information is public, why do companies charge a fee?

Some private companies are charging for the service they provide in making public records more accessible--whether through digital form or fast delivery. They provide access to records that would otherwise be inconvenient or difficult to retrieve. For example, property information, addresses, tax information, email accounts, phone numbers, and other information may be accessed through a private company.

Do "information brokers" have more access to public records?

While "information brokers" may advertise increased access to public records, they may only be offering basic information that is already available through widely used search methods—including government records databases. However, as the word "brokers" suggests, "information brokers" may be able to offer more rapid and convenient access to public information than might otherwise be available to an individual.

Can the government charge for access to public records?

The government has the right to charge a nominal fee for access to public records.

Freedom of information laws allow the general public to access information held by national governments. In most cases, acquiring information requires a legal process in which applicants for public records access must demonstrate a "right-to-know."

Once established, the documents must be delivered at a minimal cost.

How do I prevent a public criminal record?

A criminal conviction will become a public record. The only way to prevent a criminal record is to avoid charges and arrest. In some cases, you can have those records expunged, depending on the nature of the crime. Crimes of a sexual nature, for example, will not be removed from your criminal record.

Is my arrest and booking part of the public record?

Even if you are not convicted, information regarding your arrest and booking may be included as part of the public record.

How do I eliminate a criminal record?

For those arrested, booked, and/or convicted of a crime, there are special circumstances in which parts of a criminal record can either be cleared or made inaccessible by the general public or potential employers, without a court order. Record-sealing makes a criminal record unavailable to the public while expungement completely eliminates a criminal record, making it unavailable even to law enforcement agencies. You must pursue a legal process to obtain a criminal record or expungement.

Is my marriage license part of the public record?

Marital licenses may be made public, depending on the state and whether you opt to make your license confidential. In California, you are able to indicate on your marital license whether you want a public marital license.

Why are real estate records public?

Real estate records are necessary to conduct property valuations. The value of property depends on a number of factors that can only be assessed through historical and public records. Every property is unique and requires the use of information regarding mortgages, encumbrances, judgments, and other issues that may affect title and worth. Real estate records are also used for determining property taxes, as well as settling divorce and estate cases.

Is information from the DMV part of a public record?

Information collected by the DMV is generally considered part of the public record, unless that information is deemed personal. Personal information not be available to the public includes name, social security number, physical descriptions, home address, phone numbers, education, financial matters, and medical or employment information.