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Concerns raised about online criminal records

December 16, 2008 by  

You can see criminal records at the click of a mouseAt first, the idea of being able to access a person’s criminal record dating back several years may seem convenient – but what if there are errors?

That is just one of the privacy and civil liberties concerns that have been raised by groups and individuals, as more states move to introduce searchable online criminal records databases, the Associated Press reports.

These systems make delving into someone’s past easier than ever before. For example, Vermont’s system requires that you supply a person’s name, date of birth and pay a $20 fee.

But the records that are maintained online are not as comprehensive as those kept at the courthouse, prompting Allen Gilbert of the ACLU to argue that people accessing the database do not receive a full picture.

"There might be something about the conviction that if you looked at the court record, you’d better understand about what happened and what’s behind the conviction," he told the news provider.

Another concern is that of mistaken identity. Michigan warns users of its system that because it is based on name, it is not foolproof.

A recent story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram drew attention to massive gaps in the state’s online criminal records database, which criminal justice professor Mike Vaughn attributed to human error.

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  • Raymond Taylor

    On the same day I was born, someone with the same name was born in a hospital 250 miles away. In my early 20′s, I could not understand why I could not get credit while others of my age who earned less, with shorter job stability; and had less savings than me, were getting pre-approved credit cards by the truck load. I was turned down for very well paying jobs by several potential employers for “…not being truthful about past felonies.” I have never been arrested/tried/convicted in my life! I found out about this other person when one day the FBI showed up at my doorstep and placed me in handcuffs. The charges were Armed Robbery (x6), Attempted Murder (x3), ADW (x2), and Interstate Mail and Credit Card Fraud (x?). When my father asked how they determined it was me, they replied “Our computers tracked him down. It’s all here in this folder.” It was then that the agents actually OPENED the file and looked at the mug-shot of the REAL criminal.
    Looking at me, the picture, at me, the picture, several more looks; the FBI Agent said: “Hey, wait a minute…you’re not BLACK!”
    Everyone had a chuckle, the hancuffs were removed, apologies made with handshakes, and we parted company in a reasonably pleasant manner.
    It’s just a ‘co-incidence’ the agents left the file sitting open and within view while they called their office to confirm my real identity.
    Yes, I do sometimes feel very bitter about this and the way it has influenced my life. I am also aware that there isn’t a —— thing I can do to “correct it” except be thankful I live in a country where the presumption of innocence is protected by honest professionals like the FBI agents who showed up on my doorstep that day.

  • Octavio Thi

    I bet Dennis VanDerGinst would say the something along those lines.

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