Guide to Public Records and Government Transparency in the United States

Rights of Americans to Obtain Records and Information from the Government

Does the public have the right to access government information?

You (yes, everyone, not just journalists) have the right to obtain access to public records held by the federal government, with some exceptions, including national security related information or personally identifiable information of individuals.1Freedom of Information Act of 1966 Such a request is called a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, named after the law that makes it possible. You can find out more about FOIA requests here. Or more general information about open government on the federal level at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Most states also have laws giving any member of the public the right to attend government meetings. Find your state at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press state laws.

How do I do a Freedom of Information request?

Each federal government agency generally has its own Freedom of Information department, which you can find here.

For state government, see here.

What information is considered in the “public record”?

In general, any individual may access information in the open public record, which may include things like civil and criminal histories, including lawsuits and convictions. It generally also includes real estate information, such as the history of pricing of a house, etc.

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