What are public records?
Public records are documents held by the government that members the general public has the right to access and view. They may exist as tangible paper copies of records held by in a government repository or as electronic records within an online database.
Common types of public records include criminal records, court records, and vital records such as birth and death certificates. Public records can be accessed by the general public by making a public records request to the appropriate government agency.
Which federal law deals with public records in the United States?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967 is the major federal law regarding public records in the United States. The FOIA requires federal government agencies to release documents to the public when they make a records request, as long as the record in question doesn’t fall under one of nine exemptions outlined in the law. However, most people do not take advantage of the FOIA, and most record requests are made by businesses, law firms, and professionals.
Generally, if public records are to be used for a commercial purpose, the requester of the record must notify the agency of their intent while submitting the request.
What are the Illinois laws governing public records?
The Freedom of Information Act/5ILCS 140 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes declares the right of members of the general public to inspect and copy records made by “public bodies”, which includes state and local governmental agencies, state universities and colleges, and boards, commissions, and bureaus of the state government.
The IL FOIA defines the term “public records” to include “records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, electronic communications, recorded information and all other documentary materials pertaining to the transaction of public business”.
In Illinois, public records requests can be made in person or in writing, however, the Attorney General recommends that requests be made in writing due to the fact that time limits can not be set on in-person requests.
Examples of Illinois Public Records
Illinois public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court cases
- Marriage records
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Illinois:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Library records
- Birth records
- Death records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Illinois public records?
- Office of the Illinois Secretary of State: Department of Business Services Database – Search for Illinois businesses to learn their entity type, formation date, and current status.
- Illinois Department of Revenue: Tax Lien Registry – Search for tax liens issued for Illinois businesses by the DOR.
- Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Online Case Search – Search for court records from the circuit court of Illinois’ most populated county, which is home to Chicago. The database includes probate court case records, wills, traffic tickets, civil law case records, mortgage foreclosures, and more.
- Illinois Supreme Court Docket – The Supreme Court docket archives, with documents available in PDF format.
- Illinois Association of Court Clerks (IACC) Directory – Lists the contact information of the court clerk of every Illinois county court. Making a records request to the court clerk of the court where a case originated is the most effective means of obtaining specific court case information.
- Illinois State Police: Criminal History Information Response Process – A searchable online database of Illinois criminal history information. In order to perform a search, one must first enroll to receive a Digital Certificate.
- Illinois State Police: Criminal History Background Checks – A page that explains the procedure of conducting a fingerprint-based criminal history background check in Illinois.
- Illinois State Archives – The official depository of public records in Illinois. The Springfield office maintains a large collection of administrative, historical, and legal records, however, unofficial records such as newspapers and manuscripts are not included.
Sex Offender Information
- Illinois Sex Offender Registry – Maintained by the Illinois State Police, the state’s sex offender registry can be searched by members of the general public. Users can search either by name or by location.
- Illinois Department of Health: Birth, Death, Other Records – Request certified or non-certified vital records from the Illinois Division of Vital Records. Certain types of records, such as birth and death records, are only accessible by a select group of family members.