Looking for a quick and easy way to run a national criminal background check on a prospective employee? Good luck. Contrary to popular belief, accurate criminal background checks on the national level are nearly impossible to carry out. According to Jackie Walters, a law librarian, there are seven facts that make this type of background check unfeasible.
- There is no one location where local, state, and federal criminal records can all be found. Thus, there is no one search that could comprise all areas where criminal records might be located.
- Fully automated data collection systems are few and far between. True, 49 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico do all have some level of automation in their criminal history systems, but only 25 of those states have a wholly automated network. All the other states require some level of manual entry in order to keep criminal record databases up to date.
- There is no federal standard for collecting, indexing, and using criminal record data. The standards will therefore vary in scope and effectiveness from state to state.
- On-site record searches are expensive. The normal scope of criminal record searches span every place a person has lived in the last seven years. A thorough on-site search of even one place a person has lived takes a prohibitive amount of time and money. If the person has moved in the previous seven years, that expense compounds correspondingly.
- State restrictions on the release of personal data grower stricter annually. With all the fear of identity theft, this is hardly surprising. However, these regulations make it difficult for researchers to see relationships between record types (i.e. tax, property, liens).
- Privacy regulations on state and federal levels restrict how individuals and companies can use information gleaned from background checks. According to Walters, the most common occasions when use of this information is permissible are “pre-screening, consumer-driven transactions, fraud detection, and law enforcement.”
- The FBI maintains and restricts use of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) only to certain organizations and agencies. Thus, though the NCIC is the closest thing there is to a national criminal record database, it is not available for public use.
Don’t be fooled by the pop-up ads you might see when searching for a company capable of completing a “national” criminal background check. Anyone can use a search engine to look up someone’s name. The process of carrying out an accurate background check, however, is delicate and requires extensive knowledge of and experience with multiple criminal records resources.