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Public records are documents or pieces of information that are not considered confidential and generally pertain to the conduct of government.

For example, in California, when a couple fills out a marriage license application, they have the option of checking the box as to whether the marriage is "confidential" (Record will be closed, and not opened to public once recorded) or "public" (record will become public record once recorded). Essentially, if the marriage record is public, a copy of the record can be ordered from the county in which the marriage occurred.[1] Other examples of public records includes information pertaining to births, deaths, and documented transaction with government agencies. [2]

Although public records are records of public business, they are not necessarily available without restriction, although Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) that has been gradually introduced in many jurisdictions since the 1960s has made access easier. Each government has policies and regulations that govern the availability of information contained in public records. A common restriction is that data about a person is not normally available to others; for example, the California Public Records Act (PRA) states that "except for certain explicit exceptions, personal information maintained about an individual may not be disclosed without the person's consent".[5]

In the United Kingdom, Cabinet papers were subject to the thirty-year rule: until the introduction of FOI legislation, Cabinet papers were not available for thirty years; some information could be withheld for longer. As of 2011 the rule still applies to some information, such as minutes of Cabinet meetings.

Some companies provide access, for a fee, to many public records available on the Internet. Many of them specialize in particular types of information, while some offer access to different types of record, typically to professionals in various fields. Some companies sell software with a promise of unlimited access to public records, but may provide nothing more than basic information on how to access already available and generally free public websites.[citation needed]

Each year news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and other interested groups sponsor "Sunshine Week." Sunshine Week occurs in mid-March, coinciding with James Madison's birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th.[6] The purpose of the week is to highlight the idea that "government functions best when it operates in the open."[7]

In many states, state legislatures are often exempt from public-records laws that apply to state executive officials and local officials. In 2016, the Associated Press made a request for the emails and daily schedules of state legislative leaders (speakers of state Houses and presidents of state Senates) in all 50 states; a majority denied the request.[8]

Court records

Of particular significance was the evolution of the common-law right "to access court records to inspect and to copy". The expectation inherent in the common law right to access court records is that any person may come to the office of the clerk of th

For example, in California, when a couple fills out a marriage license application, they have the option of checking the box as to whether the marriage is "confidential" (Record will be closed, and not opened to public once recorded) or "public" (record will become public record once recorded). Essentially, if the marriage record is public, a copy of the record can be ordered from the county in which the marriage occurred.[1] Other examples of public records includes information pertaining to births, deaths, and documented transaction with government agencies. [2]

Since the earliest organised societies, with taxation, disputes, and so on, records of some sort have been needed. In ancient Babylon records were kept in cuneiform writing on clay tablets. In the Inca empire of South America, which did not have writing, records were kept via an elaborate form of knots in cords, quipu, whose meaning has been lost.

In Western Europe in the Late Middle Ages public records included census records as well as records of birth, death, and marriage; an example is the 1086 Domesday Book of William the Conqueror.[3] The details of royal marriage agreements, which were effectively international treaties, were also recorded. The United Kingdom Public Record Office Act, which formalised record-keeping by setting up the Public Record Office, was passed in 1838.[4]

Public records

Access to public records