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 Oregon’s public records law?
The Oregon Public Records Law guarantees the public the right of access to public records held by government agencies at every level. The law states that any writing held by a public body containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business is a public record. However, records existing on privately owned computers that do not pertain to the public’s business are not public records, according to the law.
In Oregon, anyone can make a public records request without declaring a statement of purpose, and there are no restrictions on the use of records. Yet, there is no set time limit that a public body must follow in responding to a public records request.
Examples of Oregon Public Records
Oregon public records include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal records
- Court cases
- Licensing records
- Statistical data
- Meeting minutes
- Business records
- Historical records
- Government contracts
- Voting records
The following are NOT public records in Oregon:
- Library records
- Medical records less than 75 years old
- Computer programs
- Trade secrets
- Student transcripts
- Social welfare information
- Sealed records
- Tax returns
- Unpublished research and commercial data
- Vital records
Where can I access Oregon public records?
- Oregon Secretary of State: Business Search – Search the name of a business based in Oregon to learn its registry date, entity type, principal address, authorized representative, and more. You can also perform a trademark search through the site.
- Oregon Judicial Department: Online Records Search – An online search tool provided by the Oregon Judicial Department that allows individuals to look up limited case information for Oregon Tax Court and circuit court cases.
- Oregon Criminal Justice Information Service: Criminal History Record Checks – A page outlining the procedures for requesting a copy of your own criminal history record, or the record of another person. If a request for the criminal history record of another person is submitted to the CJIS, the law states that the person must be informed of the request through a mailed notice to their listed address.
- State of Oregon: State Archives – The Oregon State Archives maintains an extensive collection of formational documents, genealogical records, manuscripts, and historical audiovisual material. A large number of records are available online in digital form.
Sex Offender Information
- Oregon Sex Offender Registry – There are over 30,000 sex offenders in the Oregon Sex Offender Registry. However, only a small fraction (950) can be searched through the website. This is due to the fact that the Oregon State Police is restricted by law to only make information on Level 3 sex offenders publicly available.
- Oregon Health Authority: Oregon Vital Records – Oregon has some of the most restrictive laws on vital records in the United States, and birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates are only available to authorized persons, such as the subjects of the record, family members, and legal representatives, for many decades after the creation of the record. Nevertheless, authorized persons may order copies of vital records through the Oregon Center for Health Statistics, or the authorized 3rd party vendor, VitalChek.