The Definition of a "Record" Under the Freedom of Information Act

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January 7, 2014 — 1,136 views  

The Freedom of Information Act was brought into effect in April, 1998. It was then amended in 2003. This act holds a lot of importance for the general public as it gives them the right to go through the records held by certain public bodies and government departments. The biggest advantage is that you don’t need to mention any reason for wanting to assess the records. Also, if you are not being provided the records that you want to check, the public body or government department under question needs to give you an explanation stating the reason behind it. Normally, it takes around 4 weeks for a decision to be made on an application.

Definition of a ‘Record’

Having understood that, it becomes important to know the exact meaning of the term ‘record’ under this act. Records have been defined by regulation and statue to include all sorts of information, without making any differentiation on the basis of format or medium. This information needs to be received or made either by EPA or any of its agents under the Federal law itself in relation with the transactions of public business. Also, the information needs to be preserved or should be appropriate for preserving, due to its legal, administrative, informational or fiscal value.

The detailed definition given by the Federal Records Act says that all papers, books, machine-readable materials, photographs, maps, or any other documentary material, regardless of the kind of physical form or characteristics it has, received or made by any agency of Government of U.S  under the Federal Law or in relation with public business transaction, which are either appropriate for preserving or are preserved by the agency or the legitimate successor of the document as an evidence due to its information value is considered to be a ‘record’.


However, not all documents used and created by the EPA or its agents can be termed as records. Records form only one of the total three components of ‘documentary materials’ (which is a collective word used for referring to documents in all sorts if mediums that are maintained and created by the Agency.) These documentary materials have been classified into two basic kinds.

Non-Records or Non-Record Materials

These are the documentary materials that are received or created by the EPA that don’t meet the definition of record as stated by Federal Records Act. They can also fall in this category if they are not included by the statue. Examples of this kind include technical reference, library materials, courtesy, information or other Agency document copies which don’t demand any kind of action. Lastly, documents which just provide information and are not linked to the Agency business transactions also fall in this kind.

Personal Papers

These have been definedunder Federal regulations as documentary materials or portions that can be segregated; of nonpublic or private character which don’t have a relation with or any effect on the agency business. Examples of this kind include private materials created, received or brought in the office which were not recorded or created in the transacting government business course. Work-related personal documents which are not used for government business transactions and documents created prior to entering government service also fall in this category.

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