Tutorial: Public Records Act Requests
The federal government has a law, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, that 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 the 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 for accessing records.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
The RCFP has an open records & Mmeetings guide at its website that covers the federal FOIA.
First Amendment Project
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
The committee published a comprehensive Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act.
Sample FOIA Request Letter
The text of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act is available online at the:
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
The NFIC at the Univeristy of Missouri has put together a list of links to state FOI resources.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
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
The First Amendment Coalition website has information the California Public Records Act and also offers assistance in filing public records act requests. The site also has news items on the latest developments in public records access, including court decisions interpreting the CPRA.
First Amendment Project
The First Amendment Project website has resources on using the California Pubilc Records Act and other laws on the public's right to access government meetings and records.
These includes pocket guides on the California Public Records Act and accessing government and court records and meetings, as well as a pocket guide to state shield law protections for journalists.
At the Californians Aware website this non-profit group has posted resources on open government, as well as active message boards where people can discuss freedom of information issues and problems with accessing government documents and meetings.
California Attorney General's Office
The California Attorney General's Office has published a summary (pdf) of the California Public Records Act.
Sample CPRA Request Letter
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 website, scroll down and check the box next to Government Code. In the search box below type 6250, and click on the Search button.
At the search results page, click on the listing for GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 6250-6270.
(the rest of the listings are for other sections of the government code that make reference to the California Public Records Act)
You'll get a screen you can scroll through to see all 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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