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How are Public Records Collected?

Before answering the question of how public records are collected, let us understand what, in essence, are public records.

Public records are most often referred to as civil records and they represent the pieces of information that are collected, stored, and utilized by the government. It is worthy to note that public records are not confidential pieces of information. Public records are crucial to the government as it encourages transparency and accountability. Public records come in different forms: tangible and digital. Public records stored inside tangible forms can be found on CDs, DVDs, memory cards, paper, and photographs, whereas digital public records are kept inside the computer databases.

Types of public records

Even though the word "public" refers to the information open to the public, there are exceptions. Namely, in some states of the United States, people can choose which of the public records they want to keep confidential. A good example would be the possibility to tick the box whether a couple wants to keep their marriage "confidential" or "public" in California when submitting a marriage license application. "Confidential" public records mean that the provided public records will not be revealed to the public once recorded. "Public" public records, on the contrary, suggest they are becoming public once registered.

Here are a few examples of public records:

Why was there a need to collect the public records?

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Since the earliest organized societies were founded, there has been a need to record some data. The earliest track of public records was collected in the 1086 Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. Technically, the marriage agreements that were conducted between royal families were the representation of international treaties. The first official need to place public records officially was set in 1838 by the United Kingdom Public Record Office Act by establishing the Public Record Office

In the 1960s, the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation was introduced in many jurisdictions. This has enormously simplified access to public information. Ever since the system was evolving, each government has adopted specific policies and regulations to govern the availability of information and access to it online.

Generally, the only source of information that cannot be disclosed to the public is private data about a person. According to the California Public Records Act (PRA), "except for certain explicit exceptions, personal information maintained about an individual may not be disclosed without the person's consent."

Several online companies provide public records for a fee. Some companies offer specific information, and others provide different public records. As a rule, the public records being "sold" are the pieces of information needed for professionals. There are even companies that sell certain types of software that provide unlimited access to public records.

Technically, the access to public records has dramatically increased in the past couple of years, making it easier for third parties, such as information brokers, to use public records to their own benefit. The only concern that the courts have raised recently is that with the access to public records, many of the highly sensitive information has a risk of being published (e.g., social security numbers, victim names, etc.)

Key takeaways

Public records are pieces of public information collected by the government, which can be stored inside tangible and digital forms and accessed by the public. Many companies collect, use, and sell public records to other third parties which may profit from it. With the recent ease of access to public records, more people can use it to their advantage.

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