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Factual and Investigative Research Guide: Public Records

Sleuthing, for all.

Public Records Laws

What constitutes a “Public record” may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in the sense that each jurisdiction may have varying degrees of easy access to such records, especially online. Some free sites are free up until a certain point, which means that to get the meaty information, you will have to register and/or pay for such access in order to get certain information.

There are laws in place that require officials to produce public records upon request. Once you know what you want or need, including where in the government this information can be found, and you've determined that you cannot access that information elsewhere, you should look at the records access laws for that jurisdiction. Requests for specific information do better than requests for "everything." Requests for information are often denied, and those denials can be appealed. There are organizations and resources to help you with your records requests.

Muckrock guidance: FOIA FAQ: What to do when an agency claims not to have records you know it has

Freedom of Information

Note: even if you can request information, and many times when you do request information, you might still run in to red tape, bureaucracies and other like hurdles. Request the information anyway and be persistent. Sometimes, it’s worth picking up the phone or going in person.

Below, find links to government and organizational resources that can assist you with filing a records request, and if necessary, with filing an appeal to a request denial.

Remember: requests for specific information do better than blanket requests for "everything."

Once FOIA requests have been fulfilled, the agency or some interested organization will collect the responses to make this information available and searchable. This is a good way to see if the information you'd like to request had been requested in the past, or will give you insight regarding the kind or scope of information that you may request. There are several databases where FOIA responses live.

A Citizen's Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act to Request Government Records (PDF)

This is a resource that is regularly updated (annually) so it is always a good idea to know you are using the most recent version.

Requested Records Databases:

Other Resources