Federally Protected Public Records

The Federal Open Records Act (FOIA) only applies to federal government records. Federal laws protecting certain records for concerns of personal privacy, national security, etc., are protected at all levels of government. Each state has it's own open records and open meetings laws, commonly referred to as 'sunshine laws.' Most state statutes cover the federally protected records as well as include their own protections for certain records.

While each state words it's statutes in its own way, these laws are all essentially the same. They all draw inspiration from the federal version and provide much the same protections, rights and responsibilities. If a state has a different provision from that which is outlined here, it will be outlined on that state page in our website.

Protected Records Include:

  • Records whose release would constitute an infringement on personal privacy or are otherwise protected by state and federal law as private and confidential. This includes medical, student, tax, certain parts of autopsies, personnel records that provide contact and address information or performance opinions, library records, attorney records and otherwise personal or confidential records.
  • ALL records whose release would hinder an open investigation, obstruct justice or endanger the safety of investigators or the investigated or the privacy of the victims. Some of these records may become public after the case has been closed
  • Records that could hinder the state's ability to operate or somehow otherwise endanger or compromise the state and/or the people. This includes building plans and blue prints of state and quasi-state entities, emergency action strategies, active or pending procurement plans and bids and appraisals, water well locations, personnel files, and any other detailed infrastructure outlines.
  • Trade secrets

The main differences between the states in this matter are really how these laws are carried out and the speed with which the states open records oversight group (assuming there is an oversight group) acts upon appeals. For more information on states actual performance, please see the most recent data compilation and ranking here.  All state laws apply at the county level.