What are Public Records and Who Can Access Them
Public records are dockets containing information on people and governmental affairs that the public is allowed to view. Each person may obtain copies of public records at the relevant authority with minimal procedures involved at an affordable price.
In the United States, FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act) obligates the government to reveal records considered public and each state has its own FOIA laws. For instance, Florida has its Sunshine Law from 1995; Texas acts according to the Public Information Act from 1973.
It should be noted, however, that each state follows the principle of open records to a different degree. While in Florida, almost all governmental dockets are considered public records, in Pennsylvania, in contrast, all governmental dockets are sealed and it is a person's duty to prove he is entitles access to them. In California, a person can view criminal records related only to himself and not to a third party.
Types of records available to the public
In most states, the following are considered public records:
Court dockets – dockets showing court procedures. They are usually kept by the County Clerk.
Criminal records – indicate that a person has been convicted of a crime in court
Sex offender registry files – a list of convicted sex offenders and predators. In the United States, a person convicted of a sex crime must appear in a governmental registry which is open to public view and usually presented online.
Real estate appraisal records – data on the value of real estate assets and transactions.
Census records – contain demographic data related to the city / county/ state
Voter registration – people who have the right to vote.
Legislation minutes – data on the state's legislation activity including new bills.
Government spending – reports revealing governmental spending and allocation of money.
Professional and business licenses – permits that allow business activity of individuals, companies and institutions.
Consumer protection – dockets providing information on local market conditions including consumer rights and fair trade