The definition of what records are public varies depending on state and federal law. The definition may include government contracts with businesses, birth, marriage, and death records, court files, arrest records, property ownership and tax information, minutes of meetings of government entities, driver's license information, occupational licenses, and Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Many of these public records contain individuals' personal information.
This personal information is required to be divulged when citizens interact with state or federal bureaucracies for the purpose of administering voting, public benefits, and privileges. However, once a record becomes public, there is generally no restriction on the purpose for which the personal information contained within the record is used. The availability of this information without restriction on use exposes individuals to risks and annoyances:. As a society, we need to reevaluate how the personally identifiable information contained within public records can be used.
Clearly, a free society demands a robust right of access to public records in order to assure accountability of public officials and government. This robust right must facilitate citizen access to records, not just access to those with resources and expertise in obtaining government records. A system must be established that ensures legitimate uses--journalistic, historical, and educational--of public records while still preserving privacy protections for personal information. With few exceptions, courts files are considered public and there are no legal barriers to their dissemination or to the dissemination of the personal information within the files.
While court files always have been public, they were considered to enjoy "practical obscurity. To this day, most records probably are stored at the local level on different types of media paper, magnetic tape and are indexed with varying degrees of accuracy and usefulness.
Court files contain a wealth of personal information. For instance, bankruptcy filings, which are required by statute to be public, contain personal identifiers and detailed information on the petitioner's assets.
Free Government Public Record Sites
Civil case files may contain medical information and detailed information on spousal infidelity and abuse. Criminal case files may contain presentencing reports and the identity of officers and witnesses in criminal investigations. The AOUSC recognized that remote electronic access to this information could result in invasions of privacy and in security risks to witnesses and litigants. The challenge was to formulate a scheme that guarantees robust access to public records while also preventing unwarranted invasions into the personal matters of litigants and witnesses. To reach this goal, EPIC commented that in the context of civil case files, personal identifiers should be redacted.
In the context of criminal case files, sensitive information such as pre-indictment documents, presentence reports, plea agreements, and unexecuted warrants should not be available to the public.
Last, in the context of bankruptcy files, EPIC commented that personal identifiers should be collected on a separate form that was not available to the public. Overall, more than comments were received by the AOUSC, and the body released a policy in September that included important provisions for the protection of personal information.
These included the redaction of personal identifiers in civil and bankruptcy cases, a delay in providing remote electronic access to criminal files, and Social Security cases were excluded from electronic access. The states have different laws and policies on what court files are public and the extent to which they are available electronically.
In , the National Center for State Courts requested comments on a model policy for public access to court records. State court records are more likely to contain information that could be stigmatizing. Family court issues, mental health cases, and domestic abuse cases are all handled in state courts. In April , the New York State Court system created a committee to study public access to court records. The government compels citizens to divulge certain information before participating in democratic processes.
For instance, for purposes of voting registration, citizens have to provide their identity and address. Some districts also collect information on party affiliation. This information is often in the public record, and may not be protected by use limitations or other Fair Information Practices. This personal information often is used to build complex profiles of citizens and their likely voting behaviors. Aristotle, a company that creates voter profiling software, sells databases of voter information that includes name, address, phone number, donation history, and party affiliation.
The company also sells tools to track voter correspondence with elected officials. A number of commercial profilers sell public records information to government law enforcement agencies. An April 13, article in the Wall Street Journal reported that profiling company ChoicePoint provided personal information to at least thirty-five government agencies. EPIC has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to determine the nature and amount of information sold to government.
To date, EPIC has determined that ChoicePoint has several multi-million dollar contracts with law enforcement agencies to sell personal data. In addition, Experian, a credit reporting agency, sells personal information to government agencies for law enforcement purposes. Profiling data is sometimes abused by law enforcement agents. Data available on this web site is updated frequently and can be provided via electronic media for an annual subscription fee.
If interested, please Contact Us. Case info is updated on this website daily. Information is updated each Friday to reflect case information through the Wednesday of the same week. All Rights Reserved. The Arizona Judicial Branch is pleased to offer Public Access to Court Case Information, a valuable online service providing a resource for information about court cases from participating courts in Arizona.
Public Records Unit
Not all courts participate in this site. Show unavailable courts. Spokane County. The practice tips below explain how to perform an adequate search, based on PRA case law. How to Perform an Adequate Search. Use these practice tips to guide your agency's search for responsive records.
Public Information/Records Request
Consider investing in software that allows certain staff members like the PRO or clerk to use specified search terms to search all agency email and find responsive records. If your agency does not have the budget to invest in such software or otherwise does not have the capability to conduct a search of all agency email, consider using an email voting tool, which allows the PRO to efficiently survey staff and officials on whether they have responsive emails.
See Copying Charges for Public Records. State and local government agencies are required by chapter The state agencies records retention schedules and local governments records retention schedules , approved by the state and local records committees, establish the time frames in which records must be retained. As well, individual agencies do have the option of requesting the state or local records committee to approve an agency-specific records retention schedule.
Note that under RCW Criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, can be assessed for the intentional destruction of public records RCW Electronic records can pose unique challenges for agencies related to records retention and the requirements of the PRA. Electronic Records Retention Practice Tips.
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Use these practice tips to guide your agency's compliance with the PRA and records retention requirements for electronic records. Some agencies keep all email forever. To learn about approaches that can be taken to address email retention, see Retention of Email and Other Electronic Records. Practice Tip: When you forward agency-related emails sent and received on your personal email account, you may lose the metadata with a simple forward.