Fact Finder: Public records

March 10, 2010 

What is a public record?

The term includes paper records created or received by a government agency in the course of doing public business. The records would be correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, hand written notes, phone messages, and so forth. But it also includes maps, photographs, audio and video recordings, e-mail, databases, and spread sheets.

How do you know which records are public and which ones aren't?

Under the North Carolina's Public Records Law, G.S. 132, every record is public unless there's another law that says it isn't. And North Carolina courts have said repeatedly that the state public records law should be construed liberally. So, until you know better, you should assume that any record you want is a public record.

Do newspapers have more rights to public records than citizens?

No. Everybody has the right to examine and obtain copies of almost all public records. And you're not required to say why you want the record or what you plan to do with it either. Guide to Open Government and Public Records in North Carolina is a joint publication from the NC Attorney General's Office and the NC Press Association to help citizens and public officials understand and comply with the law. It contains information and frequently asked questions about public records in North Carolina.

Whom should you ask for a public record?

The custodian of a record - generally, the public official in charge of the office where the records are located - is the person obligated by law to provide access and copies. That's usually the person to ask. But, as discussed below, you sometimes may opt to ask the agency's public information officer.

Need help requesting public records?

Use this letter generator to compose a letter requesting federal or state records.

Sunshine Center of the NC Open Government Coalition

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