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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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Types of Confidential Records and Laws Affecting Them

Though many records are now available for public view, there are a few categories of strictly confidential records which are protected by specific pieces of legislation. The purpose for making these records confidential is to protect the identity and/or other personal information about someone that should only be necessary to be disclosed in special circumstances. Confidential records can include social welfare, income tax, education, medical and criminal records.


Information Which is Kept Confidential

These types of records are kept confidential because of personal information such as Social Security numbers, personal contact information, health history and personal financial information is included in them. In addition to federal statutes, each state carries its own definition of what constitutes confidential and private information for that specific locale.


Laws Affecting Confidentiality

The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws protect educational and health records of individuals from unauthorized parties accessing them. 

HIPAA directly deals with health records, determining who can access them and providing strict authorization requirements; this law is the reason that you must sign a release form for your doctor to share your medical information with your insurance company when necessary.

FERPA protects anyone other than a student from accessing his or her records including schools attended, classes taken and grades awarded. If the student is under the age of 18, the parents or guardians are allowed to still access this information.


Confidential Criminal Records

When someone is arrested or convicted of a criminal charge, the records surrounding that incident are maintained with the local law enforcement entities and court system. RAP sheets, or Records of Arrest and Prosecution sheets, are only accessible by authorized law enforcement personnel and the individual themselves. With the appropriate court order, another party may be able to access them. However, general criminal and court records available through the local Department of Corrections and courthouse often provide enough information for employment and background checks.


Other Confidential Records

If you currently receive any type of social or welfare benefits, this information is maintained by the appropriate state agencies in your area – often the Department of Family Services. However, this information including the type and amount of benefits received are considered confidential. Since benefits are often a direct computation of income and personal asset information, outside third parties will not be able to access this information without your approval. There may be instances where you may provide this information, such as when seeking approval for credit from a local financial institution.

Other records which contain personal financial information and are considered confidential are income tax records. Unlike property tax records, you may not simply request this information from the local taxing authority or the IRS. Income tax records must be provided by the individual concerned, or their legal representative. 

These records are kept confidential because of the very personal health, identity and financial information they contain. Without the appropriate release forms or court order, outside parties are legally not able to access this information about you. Both federal and state statutes are continually updated and expanded to continue protecting this information and protecting against identity theft and fraud.

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