What is a Public Record?
In the United States public records are documents that contain personal information on each citizen as collected by various government agencies. These records must be available to the public and offered if requested. Unless there is an exclusion in place, records produced by federal agencies are all public domain.
The Freedom of Information Act, put into effect in 1967, guarantees that anyone has the right to access federal agency records.Each state has their own guideline for what types of records are public domain. Some states readily offer public records, others have specific restrictions. Refer to your individual states policies when accessing records.
What is Public Domain?
All vital statistics are considered public record. Vital statistics essentially consist of documentation of events in a person’s life: including birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses and divorce decrees. These records generally list a person’s name, the event that the record was written for, and the date and place where the event took place.
The Department of Motor Vehicles keeps records on licensed drivers, registered vehicles and driver violations to ensure citizens are properly insured, legal to drive, and are accountable for driving offenses. Generally DMV records contain the person’s names, license number, physical descriptions (height, weight, photo ID), past violations, name of the person who owns the vehicle, plate numbers and lien information on car loans.
Police Arrest Records
Police arrest records are made public to inform citizens of criminal activity and to allow citizens access to police arrest records. Anyone has the right to inquire about a person’s arrest history, outstanding warrants, or criminal activity.
Financial documents for towns, cities, counties, states and federal agencies are publicly available in order to insure the government is accountable to taxpayers. These documents can include bills, vouchers, receipts, invoices and budgets, employee wage information, property tax bills, bills for water and sewer services, etc. The Freedom of Information laws require the government to share most of its documents with anyone who asks to see them.
Should Personal Records become Public Domain?
You may think having access to public records is an invasion of privacy. That is not true. The Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) has developed policies and regulations that make the availability of such information legal and possible to all who request this information.
Most private matters are now public domain such as divorce accounts, criminal history, court records, insurance lawsuits, voter registration, property records, etc. These records are instrumental in keeping the public notified and the legal system in tact. There is a general rule when trying to determine whether a record is public or not: if the record was paid for and maintained by taxpayer money, the record is public unless unless specifically exempted by law.
There are many benefits to having public records available to anyone one wants them. In cases of child support obtaining public record is important to insure payments are being made as determined by the court system. Public records also aid in cases of Identity theft. Prevention relies on accurate public record data to benefit consumers and assist credit bureaus in an investigation by keeping accurate information.