Public Records: United States Guidelines

Public Records: United States Regulations

When it comes to public records, United States federal and state regulations dictate which records are available to the public and the processes used to obtain them. At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act regulate public federal agency information and spell out steps to ensure that personal information is adequately protected for privacy purposes. The public has the right to request federal agency records or information that is not specifically exempted (such as classified information and trade secrets) by the Freedom of Information Act. The Privacy Act covers information specific to individuals. For example, under the Privacy Act, individuals have the right to see records about themselves (unless exempted); the right to amend non-exempt records that are inaccurate, incomplete, untimely, or irrelevant; and the right to sue the government for privacy violations of this particular statute. Both Acts are loaded with exemptions. The Government Services Administration has issued a publication titled Your Right to Federal Records that explains these two Acts in greater detail.

Public Records: United States State Records

In addition, many public records are managed by states. For example, birth records are managed by the states in which individuals were born. So, if you were born in California and need a copy of your birth certificate, you would need to contact the state of California’s Department of Public Health Services Office of Vital Records in order to obtain these public records. United States public records such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, adoption, and paternity records are all managed at the state level. Each state has its own office, department, or bureau dedicated to managing public records. These typically use the term “vital statistics” in their names, but not always. In general, if you search a state’s website for public health, records, or vital statistics, you’ll find product the correct agency fairly easily.

Public Records: United States Court Records

To add to the confusion, the U.S. court system consists of local, state, and federal courthouses. Court records are made public, however, there’s not necessarily a central clearinghouse for obtaining them. You must know through which court system the case was tried. For example, if you’re searching for criminal records, they would most likely be state records unless federal laws were broken in which case they would be federal court public records. United States crimes tried in the federal court system include mail fraud, drug trafficking, and bank robberies involving banks insured by a federal agency. Most other crimes are tried in local or state courts.

Public Records: United States Databases

If you’re confused with just these few examples, you’re not alone. Trying to figure out who’s in charge of the records you need is the most difficult part about searching for public information. United States residents have other options though. The Internet delivers public data online where access is just a few mouseclicks away – even if you’re unsure of which entity holds the records. Membership sites, geneaology sites, federal and state agency sites are but a few of the many options for finding public information in the United States.



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