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What Are Public Records?

There are different types of information when it comes to what are known as public records. Some are private and should not or may not be shared. Other information is considered to be public (open record), and is accessible to the general public. Understanding the differences is vital when conducting a background search on someone for the purpose of employment or other reasons such as a loan application. Sometimes, the distinction between them isn't as clear as you might wish it to be.

Any confidential or personal information should be considered to be private. Insurance information, medical history, a social security number, and extensive credit history are all private. However, sometimes this personal information does not remain private and it may be found and released in a legal manner.

It is much clearer cut when it comes to public records. These are defined as records of the government whether it be federal, local or state and they come in many different types. This type of record will include licenses from a government agency, judgments, bankruptcies, or liens, court records and records of real estate transactions to name a few. Keep in mind that the laws do provide some exceptions to these rules. Court records involving juveniles are not considered part of the public record due to their age and need for privacy.

Because there are both federal and state laws that determine which public records are actual public domain, a record that is considered to be a matter of public record in one state might not be in a different state due to different regulations. In the State of Maine, for instance, a search for a missing heir may include information from the list of voter registration. In other states though, this is not permissible because these records are not public under their laws. While almost every state allows people to search for felonies and misdemeanors, different results will be delivered depending upon any restrictions of any given state.

The many different laws pertaining to the release of this data make it difficult to extract information without going afoul of at least a few of the restrictions that have been set in place. That's why most companies who conduct background checks pay careful attention to the legal aspects when performing their search. Otherwise, they run the risk of releasing private information that should not be shared, not to mention other repercussions. There are many ways that information can enter the public domain and not all of those ways are legal. Who hasn't heard about the hacks that have infiltrated many credit card companies? The hackers then disseminate the private data, in which has proven to be disastrous for some of these companies.

Keep in mind that there are ways that private data can enter the public arena that make accessing this particular kind of information quite legal. If someone shares private information on a social media website, then that information is now public. On a more unscrupulous note is the fact that when using online job search websites, many people put too much information on their resume and run the risk that an unethical person will steal their identity.

However, public record release remains the single most common way that information about someone becomes public, thanks to the Public Information Act of 1966, amended section 3 from the Administrative Procedure Act 1946. Additionally amended again in the 90's and 21st century. Court documents such as divorce proceedings often contain in depth information about the personal assets of both parties. This is also the case for bankruptcies. Private matters such as protected medical information enter the public domain when a malpractice suit is heard in the court system. All of these proceedings blur the line between what is private and what is public.

Most professionals who gather public records information for employment background purposes suggest that businesses do not attempt to do background checks on their own, due to the many legal pitfalls along the way. When more in depth scrutiny is required, it's usually done professionally with the aid of an attorney and the results are more likely to be complete and legal, which protects all parties involved.


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