Public Records Act Request Resources

Tutorial: Public Records Act Request Resources

Introduction

public records act requests

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act defines what federal government records are available to the public.

Most state governments have adopted similar laws describing what state records are available for public inspection.

In California that law is called the California Public Records Act.

U.S. Freedom of Information Act

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the main federal law defining what federal government records are open to public inspection.

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act is 5 U.S.C., section 552 et seq. See below for accessing the most recent version of the FOIA

Help with the Freedom of Information Act

A number of private organizations have posted guides on the web to help reporters understand the different provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and how to file formal requests to access records.

Center for Investigative Reporting

FOIA Machine

The CIR created a FOIA Machine online tool to help you create and file FOIA requests and then track the response and get assistance if needed. CIR likens it to a Turbo Tax for getting government records. 

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Open records & meetings guide

The RCFP has an open records & meetings guide that covers the federal FOIA.

FOIA Request Generator

The RCFP also has an online FOIA Request Generator you can use to create Freedom of Information Act request letters (requires free registration).

First Amendment Project

Freedom of Information Act guide

The First Amendment Project in Oakland, CA, has on Freedom of Information Act guide on its website.

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform

Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act

The committee published a comprehensive Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act.

Sample FOIA Request Letters

Federal Citizen Information Center

Sample FOIA Request Letter

Center for Investigative Reporting

FOIA Machine

The CIR has a FOIA Machine online tool to help you create and file FOIA requests

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

FOIA Request Generator

The RCFP also has an online FOIA Request Generator you can use to create Freedom of Information Act request letters (requires free registration).

Text of the Freedom of Information Act

The text of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act is available online at the:

Cornell University Law School’s U.S. Code Web page

In the search boxes type in title 5, section 552.

State Public Records Acts

Most states have adopted public records acts on disclosure of state and local goverment agency documents.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition

state FOI resources

The NFIC at the University of Missouri has put together a list of links to state FOI resources.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Open Government Guide

The RCFP has an Open Government Guide with information on public records and open meetings laws in every state.

California Public Records Act

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is the main state law in California defining what state and local government records are open to public inspection.

The California Public Records Act is Government Code Section 6250 et. seq. See below for accessing the most recent version of the CPRA.

Help with the California Public Records Act

First Amendment Coalition

CPRA Primer

The First Amendment Coalition has a primer on the California Public Records Act and guides to other public records laws in California. The site also has news items on the latest developments in public records access, including court decisions interpreting the CPRA.

First Amendment Project

California Public Records Act guide

The First Amendment Project has a guide to using the California Pubilc Records Act and guides on other state laws on the public’s right to access government meetings and records.

There also are pocket guides on the California Public Records Act, accessing court records, accessing government meetings, and state shield law protections for journalists.

California Attorney General’s Office

Summary of the California Public Records Act 2004

The California Attorney General’s Office has published a summary (pdf) of the California Public Records Act.

CPRA Requests – Sample Letters and Help Filing

First Amendment Coalition

Sample CPRA request letter

Oakland

RecordTrac

A website developed for the City of Oakland by Code for America that provides for electronic filing and tracking of public records act requests for city documents. You also can view public records act requests made by others using the system (although not the names of the requestors).

Text of the California Public Records Act

You can look up the full text of the California Public Records Act at the state government’s California Law site. The text of the law there may be more up to date than what’s posted at other websites.

Go to the California Law code search web page. In the upper right in the Code drop-down menu select GOV (for Government Code) and in the Section search box type 6250.

You’ll get a screen at which you can click through the sections of the California Public Records Act.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was originally written by Paul Grabowicz for students in his Computer Assisted Reporting class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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