Over the past decade, companies such as fingerprinting firms have begun relying more and more upon the FBI criminal records database for their background checks. So popular is the database that the FBI conducted 17 million records checks in a single year (2012). We at Barada Associates, like other experts, are concerned that the design of this database, and the mechanisms surrounding its consumer updates, make it a risky choice, especially as a sole source of criminal records data.
How Has this Issue Arisen and What Can You Do about It?
The FBI criminal records database was initially designed as a resource for law-enforcement agencies to check individuals for arrest records. Many of these agencies don’t have the capacity to update the database regularly, if at all. As a result, both cleared and convicted individuals may be improperly identified. In 2006, the U.S. Attorney General’s office noted that approximately half the records were not complete.
In addition, the database offers no dispute mechanism for consumers who discover they are incorrectly listed or identified. Applicants also have no way of knowing exactly what was reported about them, because sometimes the results can be as simple as a Yes or a No (to a query about a criminal or arrest record).
These aspects of the criminal database are especially concerning. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) to accept disputes and to update information when they receive proof of an error. However, neither the FBI nor the law enforcement agencies that use this database are CRAs, so they are not bound by the requirements of this Act.
As a result of these and other concerns, groups such as the National Employment Law Project (a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers) have called on companies to stop using the FBI database. Yet various entities, such as the fingerprinting companies mentioned above, continue to incorporate this data into a variety of background checks―from state employees to individuals in fields that are licensed or authorized by the state.
We at Barada are confident that the vast majority of firms want to use the most accurate criminal records possible in their hiring process. As a result, we felt compelled to share this information so that companies can determine where their criminal records data is obtained and confirm whether sufficient verifications are being made.
The reality is that the FBI database was never intended for public consumption, nor was it ever intended to be a primary resource for criminal background checks conducted as part of a hiring process. For companies that are uncertain which databases are involved in their background checks, we can assist with an analysis and make recommendations. Call our offices at (765) 932-5917 or visit www.baradainc.com to learn more.