Accessing Public Records

SPJ Southern California Project Sunshine Chair Jodi Cleesattle put together this great primer on accessing public records, using state and federal public records laws.

The Art of Access: Strategies for Getting and Using Public Records for Your Reporting

State and Federal Public Records Laws:
California’s public records law is found in the California Public Records Act, California Government Code §§ 6250-6270, while the federal Freedom of Information Act is found in the United States Code at 5 U.S.C. § 552. The text of the state and federal laws can be found online on various websites.

California Public Records Act, California Government Code §§ 6250-6270:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=06001-07000&file=6250-6270
http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/cpra/
https://www.calaware.org/resources/cpra.php

Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552
http://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_XVII_4/page2.htm
http://www.thefirstamendment.org/foia.html
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/5/552.html

Public Records Resources:

Californians Aware, http://www.calaware.org/home.php
Californians Aware is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support and defend open government, an enquiring press and a citizenry free to exchange facts and opinions on public issues. CalAware is based in Carmichael, Calif.

• Top 10 Points to Remember About Making a California Public Records Act Request
https://www.calaware.org/downloads/Top10_CPRARequestPoints.pdf

• Top 10 Points to Remember About Exemptions from the California Public Records Act
https://www.calaware.org/downloads/Top10_CPRAExemptions.pdf

Citizen Media Law Project, http://www.citmedialaw.org/
The Citizen Media Law Project is hosted by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a research center founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. CMLP’s mission is to provide assistance, training, research, and other resources for individuals and organizations involved in online and citizen media.

• Access to Public Records in California
http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/california/access-public-records-california

First Amendment Center, http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org
The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and in Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

• Federal FOI Resources
http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/index.aspx

• Federal FOI Overview
http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/overview.aspx

• Federal FOI FAQs
http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/faqs.aspx

• Federal FOI Cases and Resources
http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/cases_resources_summary.aspx

• How to File an FOI Request
http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/topic.aspx?topic=how_to_FOIA

First Amendment Coalition, http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org
The First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs. Founded in 1988 as the “California First Amendment Coalition,” the organization in 2009 shrunk its name to the “First Amendment Coalition.” FAC is based in San Rafael, Calif.

• Primer on the California Public Records Act
http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/CPRA-Primer.pdf

• FAQs about the California Public Records Act
http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/cpra/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-cpra/

• California Attorney General’s Office Summary of the California Public Records Act 2004
http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/Law/CPRA/AG_CPRA_guide.pdf

First Amendment Project, http://www.thefirstamendment.org
The First Amendment Project is an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition. FAP provides advice, educational materials, and legal representation to its core constituency of activists, journalists, and artists in service of these fundamental liberties.

• Pocket Guide to the California Public Records Act
http://www.thefirstamendment.org/ca-pra.html

National Freedom of Information Coalition, http://www.nfoic.org/
The National Freedom of Information Coalition is a nonpartisan alliance of citizen-driven nonprofit freedom of information organizations, academic and First Amendment centers, journalistic societies and attorneys. The Coalition protects the public’s right to oversee its government, offering some $220,000 in grants to help foster the creation and growth of state FOI coalitions.

• State Freedom of Information Resources
http://www.nfoic.org/states

• Federal Freedom of Information Resources
http://www.nfoic.org/federal

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, http://www.rcfp.org
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a major national – and international – resource in free speech issues, disseminating information in a variety of forms, including a quarterly legal review, a bi-weekly newsletter, a 24-hour hotline, and various handbooks on media law issues. The Committee’s primary mission is serving working journalists – 2,000 of them every year – providing free assistance in defending First Amendment rights.

• Freedom of Information Resources
http://www.rcfp.org/foia/

• Federal Open Government Guide
http://www.rcfp.org/fogg/index.php

• California Open Government Guide
http://www.rcfp.org/ogg/index.php?op=browse&state=CA

• California Access to Police Records
http://www.rcfp.org/policerecords/view.php?state=CA

Society of Professional Journalists, http://www.spj.org
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 10,000 members; works to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press through its advocacy efforts.

• Freedom of Information Resources
http://www.spj.org/foi.asp

• Reporter’s Guide to FERPA: Navigating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
http://www.spj.org/ferpa.asp

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