What Employers Need to Know about the FBI Criminal Records Database - Part I

Robert Capwell

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Criminal Background Checks

Pre employment criminal background checks have reached record numbers as roughly 17 million FBI background checks for employment background screening and licensing purposes were conducted in 2012. To date, the use of FBI data has been limited to employers that fall under state and federal laws to gain access for pre employment screening purposes. The FBI’s database has been under fire for several years for incomplete and inaccurate information as several government studies point out its inaccuracies. Employers need to take a closer look at the limited information they receive from conducting bare minimum criminal background checks to satisfy federal and state mandatory requirements.

The Original Intended Use of FBI Criminal Data

fingerprinting for criminal background checksFingerprint identification has been a key part of the FBI’s national criminal history system and was initially created in 1924 for the use of government agencies involved in the administration of criminal justice functions, such as investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing. In 1992, the FBI established the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division to serve as the central repository for criminal justice information and is the largest division of the FBI. This division is responsible for administering the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which includes a segment of IAFIS which is the Interstate Identification Index (“III or Triple-I”). The III is an index-pointer system that allows for the exchange of criminal history records submitted by state agencies. The III stores the criminal history records of federal offenders and records of offenders submitted by all states and territories. Under the III, the FBI maintains an index of persons arrested for felonies or misdemeanors under either state or federal law. The index includes identification data such as name, birth date, race, and sex.

This type of criminal database system such as a name-based system is a critical tool for law enforcement officers when pulling over a suspected motorist for a minor traffic violation. A quick search of database information can reveal that the suspected driver is a fugitive with an outstanding warrant for his/her arrest. This type of information is critical for the safety of law enforcement officers approaching a vehicle. It is also critical for investigators seeking information on a suspect with a criminal history in other states.

Over time, the use of such information has been authorized for numerous non-criminal justice purposes, such as background screening for employment and licensing. Certain industries, to which either state or federal government agencies grant access based on state statute or federal law, are required to execute a FBI fingerprint check as part of the screening process. Healthcare, banking, education, energy, security, government backed contracts, and numerous government agencies line up to access the database. Even volunteer groups are authorized to use the database for pre-screening volunteers before giving them access to children or even to the elderly.

The U.S. Department of Justice Provides Clear Disclosure on Inaccuracies of FBI Data

A report published in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the overwhelming flaws contained within the database. There is no single source available that provides complete and up-to-date information about an individual’s criminal history.

As stated in the U.S. Depart of Justice 2006 report, “users may not want to rely exclusively on an FBI and state repository check and may also want to check other record sources, such as commercial databases and local courthouses to obtain more complete and up-to-date information in support of criminal history background screening. In addition to the data quality issue of obtaining comprehensive criminal record information, there is the issue of ensuring that users are provided information that is accurate and up-to-date.

Part II of this article will address the inconsistencies and challenges of data submitted by individual states and how inconsistent and incomplete criminal data impacts the overall integrity of the FBI database.

Employment Background Investigations is committed to providing employers with valuable education, news and resources around background screening, drug testing, occupational healthcare and employment eligibility. All content provided by EBI is published for the convenience of its readers and should never be deemed as legal guidance or advice. Always consult your legal counsel for specific advice on state laws and industry regulations.

Background Checks

Robert Capwell

Posted By: Robert Capwell

EBI’s Chief Knowledge Officer, Mr. Robert E. Capwell, is considered one of the leading experts in the background screening industry with over 22 years of experience in the field. Mr. Capwell was a contributing author of the second edition of the ASIS Pre-employment Background Screening Guidelines and has written numerous articles and whitepapers for various publications including a periodic column on background screening for The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Online. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Human Resource Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and several HR-related publications. Mr. Capwell speaks regularly to industry colleagues and HR Professionals both nationally and internationally.

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