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Public, Non-Public & Confidential Information

Updated: 04/10/2015

What is a ‘Public Record’?

A public record is any document, regardless of physical form, that is made or received in connection with the public business of any state agency. “Regardless of physical form” means that films, audio tapes, pictures, photographs, computer files and email may be considered a public record, as well.

Who has the right to access public records?

In general, any person may inspect or copy public records held by a government agency during reasonable business hours and under reasonable supervision. The individual requesting access does not have to give any reason why they wish to see the records. Refer all public records requests to the University Records Officer in the Office of General Counsel (OGC) before providing access to the records that you maintain.

What about historically-significant or fragile documents that could be damaged if mishandled?

Public access to these types of records may be restricted to the extent needed to protect them.

Who must provide access to the public records?

Only the custodian of the records is responsible for providing access to the records under her/his control. At NC State, the University Records Officer is responsible for coordinating responses to public records requests. Therefore, records custodians should always consult with the University Records Officer in OGC before providing access to the records they maintain.

Are all records maintained by NC State available to the public?

Some records maintained by the University are confidential and, generally, must not be made available for public inspection. Common examples of confidential records include:

  • Trade secrets.
  • Library user records.
  • An attorney’s written communications when the attorney is representing the University. However, these communications must be regarding actual or potential legal claims and in the scope of the attorney’s duty.
  • Medical and counseling records.
  • Personnel records.
  • Information about applicants for admission to NC State (except that communications from elected officials about applicants remain publicly-available).
  • Bids for public contracts before the contract is awarded. 
  • UNC system internal auditor working papers

Some documents maintained by NC State are not confidential, but may be withheld from public release.  These are commonly referred to as non-public records.  Examples of non-public records include:

  • Law enforcement records.
  • Student records.
  • Research or commercial data which has not been published or patented.
  • Minutes and general accounts of public body closed session meetings.
  • Records maintain by NC State which are unrelated to official business.

Do special rules apply to student records?

Yes.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, is a federal law that protects student records.  The law requires colleges and universities to keep student records private and, generally, to obtain the student’s consent before their records are shared or released.  The law also gives students the right to inspect records about themselves and to have their records corrected.  Contact OGC for further assistance or inquiries related to FERPA.  

How should I maintain the records in my custody?

Custodians should keep all records in a secure place, and, generally, in the same building where they are normally used. NC State follows a records retention schedule which sets out how long the University must keep certain records before those records may be destroyed. Please contact the University Records Officer in OGC for detailed guidance on records retention timelines and best practices.

Can a custodian dispose of old/unused public records?

No, not without proper authorization.   A custodian seeking to destroy public records may do so only in compliance with the applicable records retention schedule.  Employees should always contact the University Records Officer in OGC for consultation before destroying records.

How do I destroy records once the retention period has expired?

Public records that have been maintained for the required amount of time under the applicable records retention schedule may be destroyed in various ways.  The most common destruction method for non-confidential records is to simply discard them through NC State’s paper recycling program.  Confidential records must be irretrievably destroyed by shredding or, in the case of electronic records, deletion, overwriting or erasure in a manner approved by authorized information technology staff.  Contact the University Records Officer in OGC before destroying any records in your custody.

Want to learn more?

N.C.G.S. § 132 (Public Records) (hyperlink)

Records FAQs’ (NC Department of Cultural Resources)

NCSU REG 04.00.02 - Public Records Request

N.C.G.S. § 66-152 (Trade Secrets)

NCSU REG 11.00.01 (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA))

NCSU REG 01.25.12 (Records Retention)