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 is Iowa’s public records law?
The Iowa Open Records Law guarantees the public’s right to request and access public records held by state and local government bodies. However, there are exemptions such as trade secrets, the personal information of state employees, and state attorney records.
Under the law, anyone can make a public records request without stating their purpose, and there are no restrictions on the use of records. Compared to other states, Iowa is rather lenient with its designated response time, giving agencies 10-20 days to respond to a records request.
Examples of Iowa Public Records
Iowa public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court records
- Birth certificates (75 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (75 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (7 years after filing date)
- Divorce records
- Licensing records
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Iowa:
- Juvenile criminal and court records
- Birth certificates (less than 75 years after filing date)
- Death certificates (less than 75 years after filing date)
- Marriage records (less than 75 years after filing date)
- Library records
- Medical records
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
Where can I access Iowa public records?
- Iowa Secretary of State: Business Entities Search – Search an Iowa business by name or ID number to learn its formation date, principal address, entity type, current status, and more. The search will yield both active and inactive businesses in the state.
- Iowa Courts Online Search – A comprehensive search tool for Iowa Appellate Court and Trial Court case records. All search tools are free to use except the Trial Court Advanced Search and the Schedule Search, which require registration. The subscription fee is $25 a month.
- Iowa Judicial Branch: Courts Directory – A directory with the contact information of every county court in Iowa. If a court record cannot be found online, the next step is to contact the court clerk of the court where the case originated and make a public records request.
- Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation: Criminal History Record Check Information – The Iowa DCI is developing an online search tool for criminal history information, but it is still under construction. Therefore, criminal record requests must be submitted in person or by mail/fax. This page details the process for requesting a criminal background check in the state.
- State Historical Society of Iowa: State Archives – The Iowa State Archives in Des Moines maintains an extensive collection of historical records and media. Many collections are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Iowa Sex Offender Registry – The state sex offender registry is maintained by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which makes the registry available to the public. Users can search offenders by name, city, area, or internet name/email address.
- Iowa Bureau of Health Statistics: Vital Records – Authorized persons may request certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates from this state agency. However, divorce records can only be obtained from a court clerk’s office.