Many people have heard about the different types of information which are made available to the public with the proper clearance for the information. These are known as public records and can be accessible by anyone through written notice or by the use of services which are tapped directly into the databases which house all of the information. The use of these records can be done for a variety of reasons and can be beneficial to some people who need to collect an inheritance, or deal with property issues and just about anything else.
Public records can be used to access information such as birth certificates, death certificates, traffic violations, serving of prison time, army and armed service time and anything that could possibly be searched. Usually the process involved knowing some sort of information that can help you to learn more about the person, their property or events which have occurred at some point in history. Looking for public records based on people requires knowledge of at least their name. Knowing their address, phone number and other snippets of information make it possible to learn more through the records which are available to the public.
You can take advantage of unlimited searches through these records with the use of a specialized service. These services offer instantaneous records access and can provide results for anything and everything that is attached to a name, address, phone number, date or birth or any information that can be scrounged together. Unfortunately, before a certain time period in many locations, these records where not kept on certain people, place and other important events because the process of keeping accurate records was not implemented. This is most evident in areas such as the southwestern United States where colonization happened sporadically. The accounts of some events, people and property information is scattered but put together as well as possible for people to access if they know where to look.
The great thing about public records is the fact that it can be accessed easily online through several services. These services can comb the entire country for information about a person, events and other things which are important to your search. This information is very useful for many different reasons and can be used to locate criminal records of a spouse, eviction information of possible tenants and many other applications which are not normally understood unless access to these records is requested. Not using the services makes it much more time consuming to get results, especially when you need the information right away. Results offered by these types of services are often served in a matter of minutes in contrast to written requests which could take weeks to a matter of months or years to properly process and clear through the bureaucratic process.
You have probably seen advertisements for Websites that claim to help you find anyone, look up criminal records reports, and share other information about your neighbors, strangers, and all of us. Where does that information come from? Public records databases maintained by local, state, and sometimes the Federal government. Public records are just that: information about people made available to the public, although there may be some restrictions imposed on searching these databases.
In a democratic society a certain amount of openness and transparency is required so that citizens know that their government is behaving fairly and ethically toward all. Although most people agree that government deliberations and procedures should be well-documented to help prevent or discover corruption, there is some confusion over why we need to share information about who lives where, what taxes they pay, and whether they have ever been arrested. These kinds of records are made available to the public on the basis of the principle of accountability.
Accountability means that the government must explain to its citizens how they are being treated under the law. Although there are cases of corruption and improper influencing, these are rare exceptions to the general rule of law. But public records go well beyond meeting the needs of accountability. They also fulfill a mandate for showing the public what their money has been spent on. For example, US census records are made available to the public after several decades so that researchers can study historical trends, families can find information about relatives, and everyone can see how the census system works.
The disclosure of census data to the public does satisfy the accountability requirement as well, since our Congressional district apportionment is decided on the basis of population distribution. This was written into the constitution and has been the basis of how our states’ representative seats in the House of Representatives are allocated. The College of Electors, the body of special delegates who are responsible for electing our Presidents, is also divided among the states on the basis of the census data.
Another reason for using public records is to manage resources and privileges for citizens, as well as to prove citizenship. For example, the law requires that every child born in the United States and its territories be issued a birth certificate by the local government (usually a county or parish). Children born to American citizens outside the US and its territories, such as on military bases or while traveling in other countries, need special certificates of birth that prove they are natural born US citizens. These certificates may have been arranged through US embassies and/or consulates.
When you die a certificate of death must be issued, thus completing most of your life’s transaction history. The certificate of death enables your next of kin to represent your estate in certain limited capacities. Certificates of death are also used by the government to justify the termination of medical and retirement benefits.
Other public records that affect our lives and which we need to interact with other groups in society include state driver’s licenses, marriage records, property deeds (for real and non-real properties), arrest records, voter registration records, social security numbers, and tax records. Privacy laws may limit how much of this information is provided to the general public within an individual’s lifetime, but some records are made available immediately because society could not function well without them.
Property deeds, for example, must be made available to the public. That way you can research who owns land or buildings in which you may have a legal interest, such as a liability claim, a right-of-way claim, or a financial lien. Who owns what is determined by what is on file with the local governments, and any conflicts must be resolved in the courts.
The concept of public records is nothing new. Societies have been making and storing public records for thousands of years. You may be surprised to know that there are still archives of ancient Roman public records available today, although most of them have been lost. The keeping of public records helps us to understand what our government and our society are doing, and they serve as fantastic historical resources.
Economists also study public records of transactions to understand where our wealth is created and flows. By comparing modern wealth movement with traces of historical wealth movement, economists hope to identify times of instability well in advance of disaster.
But there is also a dark side to the keeping of public records, the side that has spawned conspiracy theories, spy thriller novels and movies, and a massive protest against invasive government surveillance by people on the Internet. People honestly fear that their governments are spying on them, keeping more information about private citizens than they should. Although these fears are largely irrational, there have been a few revelations in recent years that stirred debate all the way from the street to the US Congress.
The United States government has been monitoring electronic communications since the 1860s, when the Lincoln administration collected copies of telegrams that were being sent across the nation. They were looking for Confederate spies and sympathizers. The ability of a democratic government to monitor citizen activity often leaps ahead of the law because of advances in technology. Throughout US history, though, there has always been push back from private citizens and state governments on just how much information the Federal government needs to collect, and what it should be allowed to do with this information.
On the one hand, we want to know about dangerous criminals who may be threats to their communities, and so arrest records are often made available to the public. This data has fueled an aggressive online industry that shames individual citizens for everything from being arrested for public loitering to committing horrific crimes. And with that shaming industry have come allegations of extortion schemes, where individuals have been required to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to have embarrassing information removed from such Websites.
On the other hand, if the government is collecting information that is not made available to the public, then is this really “public records” data? To make matters confusing, the US Constitution authorizes the Congress to withhold anything from the general public. Some people feel that interpretation may be too broad, arguing that the framers of the constitution only wanted Congress to keep some of its deliberations secret and not necessarily all the activities of government agencies. To strike a compromise between national security (including defense against criminal activity) and the public interest, Congress sets limits on how long information may be kept from the public, usually in the range of 50-to-75 years. This is deemed long enough to protect government employees and projects that may be endangered by exposure and yet short enough to allow some measure of accountability to apply even to the most secret programs.
In 2015, for example, secret records that were created in 1940 must now be made available to the public, unless Congress authorizes the continued protection of such records. Of course, many other wartime records have long since been released and historians have been able to study many declassified documents from the 1940 and 1950s. The Federal government sometimes declassifies large collections of once-secret records when their information is deemed to no longer be usable by a potential threat.
All-in-all, the many different kinds of licenses, certifications, records of transactions, transcripts of meetings, records of arrest and legal proceedings, and other public records that our governments create have become a large part of the information diet of society. We integrate these records into our daily activities in ubiquitous ways without thinking about them. The overall benefit of creating, storing, and using public records is very hard to measure except in the broadest of terms, but those terms favor the continued creation of public records databases. Their management and distribution may require changes from time to time, but those needs quickly become obvious when abuses or obsolete procedures make themselves known, thanks in large part to the very nature of public records.
Public records are important to us for many reasons, and their importance grows with each generation. As we become more connected to each other through the Internet we will continue to use public records as a means of validating other people and protecting ourselves against fraudulent transactions and potential threats to the health and safety of our families and homes.