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Blogging background checking and security issues

3.31.2005

Sharing Criminal Records

A company called Thinkstream has developed a way to allow polices officers to search for criminal records from multiple sources - state and municipal - from a laptop or hand-held computer in their squad cars. This is definitely a valuable tool for the police.

Dennis at Open Society Paradox commented that it won’t be long before this spreads to the state level. He’s right, and it’s actually happening now. There is a trend where county courts, and some municipal courts, are passing along all of the criminal record information in their files and databases to the state level. There it is compiled and made available to select agencies and employers to search. There are a number of states that offer such a search.

While this is generally a good thing – as is anything that makes background checking simpler – there is still a question of standards and information quality control. I’ll use Minnesota as an example. Their state criminal records database isn’t too bad, but the following issues should be noted:

- Each county has the option of updating the state’s database electronically, by fax or by mail. Electronic is obviously the best because it is fast and only one human is involved. Faxing is second best, but is a little slower and requires a second human to interpret the received fax. Mailing is the worst as there are two humans involved and because there is a time lag in which updated records at the court are not received and available to be entered by the state for at least 2 to 3 days.

- The state’s database is searchable by name and date of birth. A name or date of birth that is off by even one digit won’t be found. In most counties, however, near-matches that are a result of careless data entry can still be found.

- There are no universal standards as to what is reported. Minnesota only reports criminal records, while Kentucky, for example, reports criminal and traffic records.

- It is unknown what measures each state takes to ensure the accuracy of the information in its database. This will probably be the topic of a future entry, but quality standards like the ISO 900x standards exist for a reason.

It’s really nice to be able to search state records quickly and easily, but anyone who does this needs to do a little digging to understand the potential holes in the information being searched. Hopefully the police officers already know this, but having heard from a few I’m not confident.

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