Are Illinois Records Public?
Yes, most of the records generated by the state are available to the public. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (IL FOIA) asserts the public's right to access non-confidential state records. Interested persons who wish to obtain these records may contact the appropriate office regardless of the format. The IL FOIA describes public records as all reports and information material generated, owned, stored, or used by any government body as regards public business. Records exist in different forms, including writings, letters, records, photographs, books, maps, papers, memoranda, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, and electronic communications. Examples of public records in Illinois may include:
- Illinois criminal records
- Illinois arrest records
- Illinois marriage records
- Illinois bankruptcy records
- Illinois birth records
- Illinois state inmate records
- Illinois sex offender information
- Illinois property records
- Illinois death records
- Illinois divorce records
- Illinois court records
Note: Although public records include all activities carried out by any government body and its officials, it does not include the officials’ personal lives. Therefore, details of an official’s personal email or phone calls are not regarded as a public record. Persons who are interested in accessing public records may request a public data search or conduct a free public data search by querying the office of the relevant court custodian in the judicial district where the record is held. In Illinois, a public records request may be made at state level using the Form FOIA-1 (Freedom of Information Act Request)
Who Can Access Illinois Public Records?
According to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (IL FOIA), anyone with interest can access the state's public records regardless of their residential status. Public records are available to residents of Illinois as well as other citizens of the United States. Interested persons can request and access records, documents, and information gathered by the government or its agencies while performing their duties. The Act specifies that requestors have statutory rights to access, inspect, or obtain public records to perform their civic obligation of keeping the government in check.
However, certain records may be restricted from the public because of the information it contains. For instance, criminal history records may be restricted from public view if it jeopardizes the safety of all the parties involved in the case. While public records in Illinois are accessible to the public fairly easily, selected records are typically exempt from public disclosure when a public record request is made. These records may be available to persons or institutions eligible to request an official background check from FCRA sources.
Do I Need to State My Purpose and Use When Requesting Public Records in Illinois?
Individuals who wish to obtain Illinois public records are not required to submit a statement of purpose. As established under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, residents can request and obtain copies of records by simply submitting a request to the custodian’s office. Requestors must submit a written request that contains their name, contact details, and a clear description of the records. Also, a requester who has their record request denied can demand a statutory citation backing the decision. It should be noted that selected data such as vital records, the state's public records laws typically require requestors to have a tangible interest in the record or its subject to be eligible to access them. However, for records like criminal information, divorce records, arrest records, court records and others, requestors may not need to demonstrate a tangible interest.
What is Exempted Under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?
According to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (IL FOIA), record custodians may choose to grant or deny a record request depending on the information it contains. Records that contain sensitive information are often restricted from public view and protected by law. Such records are known as exemptions. The decision to exempt a record from public disclosure must outweigh the public interest. A record custodian may decide to withhold parts of a record or the entire record depending on the severity of the case at hand. Some of the reasons a record may be exempted under the IL FOIA include:
- Personal Information: A record may be restricted from public view if it contains any personal information that invades the privacy of the parties involved. Under IL FOIA, such intrusion is referred to as an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". However, personal information may be permitted if there is written consent from the person involved or the custodian decides the public interest outweighs any privacy concerns.
- Drafts and Notes: Illinois Freedom of Information Act may exempt the drafts and notes created by a government agency. Such information is considered deliberative process information and is protected from the public if its exclusion outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
- Confidential or Privileged Information: Record custodians may exempt documents or records that may reveal trade secrets or jeopardize national security. Also, information gathered from attorney-client privileged may be protected.
- Private Information: The IL FOIA protects the disclosure of private information to the public. Private information is considered a unique identifier that contains sensitive information about a person. Examples of such information include details contained in personnel records, social security numbers, home or personal telephone numbers, biometric identifiers, driver’s license numbers, passwords or other access codes, and personal email addresses. Also, a person's personal financial information, employee identification number, medical records, home address, and personal license plate numbers are considered private information under IL FOIA.
- Vital Records: While divorce records and marriage records are typically available per Illinois public records laws, certified birth and death records are restricted from public disclosure. To obtain records of this sort, the requestor will be required to prove their relationship with the subject or demonstrate a tangible interest in the record of interest.
How Do I Find Public Records in Illinois?
Anyone can find public records in Illinois by contacting the agency in charge. As established by IL FOIA, custodians of such records are to provide prompt access to records upon requests. Interested persons who wish to obtain copies of a record must take some steps that may include:
Knowing the Type of Record They Seek
The first step to obtaining a public record in Illinois is to have details of the record. Requestors must be able to provide vital information such as names of the parties involved, type of record, date, case number, etc. The information provided will, in turn, assist the record custodian to narrow down the search. Most times, lack of adequate information to aid record search is one of many reasons requests are denied. Therefore, interested persons must provide the necessary information to facilitate a record search.
Contacting the Agency in Charge
Different agencies maintain and provide access to public records. Therefore, a requestor must ensure they contact the right agency. For instance, a County’s Sheriff’s Department may be responsible for providing access to the sex offender registry and inmate records within its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, may process requests for court records, arrest records as well as civil and criminal records.
Creating a Written Request
The next step in the process of obtaining an Illinois public record is to prepare a written request. Although some government bodies or departments make provisions for public request forms. However, a written request is often advised because it allows easy tracking. This is due to the paper trails from one desk to another. To prepare a written request, interested persons are to provide some of the following information:
- A clear description of the record (narrow it down as possible)
- The type of record
- The requestor’s full name
- The requestor’s contact details
- The date range of the request
- The delivery option for the request
- Any other information that may facilitate the record search
- In selected cases (like vital record requests) the requestor may be request to provide supporting documentation to the Illinois department concerned.
Reviewing and Submitting the Request
Requesters can confirm the information provided before submitting it to the record custodian. There are various options available for requesters to submit their requests. Examples of such options include mail, fax, and in-person submission. For the mail option, requestors are to send their requests to the agency’s official email, while the fax option allows requesters to submit to an official number. Interested persons can also walk in to submit their requests during business hours. Depending on the agency, requestors may be able to submit their request online.
Using Third-Party Sites to Search Public Records
Some public records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These include court records, criminal records as well as public vital records. These websites are not limited by geographic location and come with expansive search tools. Record seekers can use these sites to start a search for a specific record or multiple records. To use a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
How Much Do Public Records Cost in Illinois?
The cost of obtaining a public record in Illinois varies, especially when it involves having duplicate copies. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act grants access to the first 50 pages for free, while a $0.15 charge applies to each additional page of the same record. The free first 50 pages and $0.15 are only applicable to 8½ x 11 or 11 x 14 sizes. Interested persons who wish to obtain copies of different sizes may be charged the actual cost of copying records.
How Do I Lookup Public Records for Free in Illinois?
Interested persons can look up public records for free in Illinois by requesting a physical inspection. Often than not, government agencies do not charge a fee to inspect their records. For instance, a requestor may inspect records available at Illinois courthouses and police departments. Such agencies maintain lobby areas and are open to requests during regular office hours.
Another way requesters can look up public records in Illinois is by searching through electronic copies. Interested persons can search for available records via the online platform or database provided by government agencies. Some counties maintain and provide public access to the sex offender registry. Residents can access information about registered sex offenders in a particular area. Interested persons may search for sex offenders using an address, city, state, zip, last name, first name, compliant status, or any other combination. In selected judicial districts, requestors may conduct a free public records search by visiting the county clerk's office or county recorder’s office and utilizing the public access computers available to the public. These are especially suitable for accessing public records like criminal records or court records.
What Happens if I Am Refused a Public Records Request?
Interested persons whose record requests are denied can seek redress. Illinois public records laws allow requestors to demand an adequate explanation for why their request was declined. The first step in reversing such a decision is identifying why the authorized agency denied the request. Requesters can write to the custodian's office demanding an explanation and statutory citation to the decision.
Alternative to contacting state government agencies, requestors can also appeal such decisions in a federal court. Interested persons are to file a suit at the federal court in any of the following places:
- Where they reside
- Location of their principal place of business (if any)
- The District of Columbia
- Where the records are situated
How to Remove Names From Public Search Records?
Interested persons who wish to remove their names from Illinois public record search can enforce a state statute or petition for a court order. The court order will both apply to records maintained by online public records resources as well as government databases. However, the record in question must fall under the list of exemptions allowed by the Illinois Public Records Act. Requestors can then choose to either seal or expunge their records.
- Sealing a Record
Requestors who choose to seal their records will have them hidden from most of the public. Law enforcement agencies and authorized employers are some of those who can still have access to sealed records. For instance, a requester with no conviction can seek to seal their record. However, such records must be part of the exemption permitted by law. To seal a public record, the requestor may petition an Illinois Superior Court and provide the necessary information.
- Expunging a Record
Expunging a record allows interested persons to have a clean slate. The record is erased like it never happened. According to the Illinois Public Records Act, requestors who seek to expunge their records must have completed the supervisions or qualified probations of the arrests and charges. That is, interested persons must not be serving time or on probation. When a public record is expunged, it may remain available until all the record custodians are duly informed, and their databases are updated.
What is the Best Public Records Search Database?
Determining the best public records search database to use often depends on the record type. Several government bodies in Illinois maintain and provide online access to public records via a database. For instance, the Cook County Sheriff's Department maintains an inmate locator database that provides inmate information to members of the public. Lake County, through its Clerk of the Circuit Courts, maintains a public access system that allows the public access to some traffic, civil, and criminal public records. Similarly, the DuPage County Sheriff's Department provides public access to the sex offender registry within the county. Notably, online public records resources are typically the quickest options for obtaining records. Third-party aggregate sites are especially touted for allowing interested members of the public to search public records instantly.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain an Illinois Public Record?
Obtaining a public record in Illinois may take as long as 5 business days to 21 business days. The waiting period is most times dependent on the type of record and the state or local government agency. Although government agencies are required to promptly attend to record requests, as established in the Freedom of Information Act 5 ILCS 140/3. The Act also specifies that the government body in charge must comply with or deny a record request within 5 business days after receiving the request. The body in charge may choose to extend the time frame. The extended time is usually up to another 5 business days from the original due date. Some of the reasons a government agency may require a time extension include:
- The request involves a large volume of specific records
- The requested record is available in parts or whole at a different location from the office in charge of the record
- The time frame to compile the requested records is not enough
However, the decision to do must be properly communicated to the requestor. A government body that fails to respond to a request within the stipulated time but later is required not to charge such a person for the record copies. Typically, the requested records are available to requestors after the response which contains the fees and other requirements.
Note: A public records act request may take up to 21 days or more if it is for a commercial purpose. As stated in the Freedom of Information Act 5 ILCS 140/3.1, the response will include estimated time to provide the records, estimated fees, and more. Requestors may also have more ease if they choose to search public records by utilizing the public access computers maintained by the records custodian or use online public records databases to search public records of interest.
Is Public Data Search Safe?
Public data search refers to the act of searching for data that is considered to be in the public domain. This can include data that is available on the internet, in government databases, or in other public sources. There are several risks that public data searches may pose to a researcher. They include:
- Data may be inaccurate or out-of-date: The data that is available in the public domain may not be accurate or up-to-date. This can lead to incorrect conclusions being drawn from the data.
- Data may be incomplete: The data available in the public domain may be incomplete and important information being omitted from the research.
- Data may be stolen: This can lead to identity theft and other forms of fraud.
- Data may be used to exploit vulnerabilities: The available data in the public domain may be used to exploit vulnerabilities.
Public data search can be a useful tool for persons seeking public record information regardless of its risks. However, by utilizing reliable public databases, requestors may be able to reduce any associated risks.