A public record is just that – once your information has been put into the legal system, almost anyone can access it for any purpose. There’s plenty to be learned from the public records available on your criminal history (or lack thereof), whether they’re located in the state or the federal system. What can people learn when they request a copy of your public record?

  • From Beginning To End

The fact that there are almost no limitations on your public records, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, means that there’s no shortage of the information that can be accessed by looking into the appropriate source. While parts of your record are fully confidential, including Social Security number and medical information, it’s possible for a request for information to turn up your birth name, birth date, height and weight (as last reported), your current or previous marriages, your property, and your criminal history. In short, almost any detail that is a major part of your life can be identified and accessed.

  • Freedom of Information

The passing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 determined that any citizen has the right to request any federal information on cases that would not be affected by the disclosure. While the FOIA.gov page notes that you have to specify which agency to request the information from – for example, the National Weather Service or National Parks Service – it’s possible to get public records provided that they are not part of an ongoing case, are not classified, are not trade secrets, or do not compromise individual privacy interests. The Freedom of Information Act means that the recipient of this information, furthermore, does not have to make their case known to the individual whose record they are pulling – if you have any records with a federal institution, any person could be accessing them at the moment.

  • Arrest Records Compared To Criminal Records

Just because you are arrested does not mean you have a criminal record. For example, someone can be arrested for refusing to testify. Instant Checkmate explains that a criminal conviction is the only public record that will count as a criminal record due to the fact that convictions result in legal processing and the status of a criminal, while arrests do not. The nature of the arrest may also affect the availability of the public record: for example, an arrest by federal agents makes the records a federal case, which would only be available through an inquiry in the federal justice system.

  • Privacy Acts

Twelve exemptions give people a right to request personal records without noting the individual in question, reports the US Department of Justice. If these twelve exemptions cannot be met, you will be notified in the event that a person has pulled or requested your personal records and that you must give written consent for them to access the information. This act, furthermore, provides you with the ability to redress any errors or amendments to your public records.


Sandra Mills is a freelance tech, security, online safety writer. She would like to remind everyone to stay safe when surfing the web and putting out their information.