Not long ago, it was difficult for anyone but
law enforcement to quickly access criminal
records. Today, anyone with a Visa card and
the Internet can order up your file.
The reason everyone can see your
record has as much to do with computers as courtrooms.
NO RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Most court records and police reports
have been available for some time
under state and federal public
disclosure laws. Most courts agree
that the constitutional right to privacy
does not apply
to criminal records.
KNOWING WHERE TO LOOK
The real challenge was knowing where to look and asking the right
questions. In one state, there could
be numerous courthouses and
police stations each with their own filing system.
THE CENTRAL STATE DEPOSITORY
By the 1970s, most states
had developed a central depository
and were hooked up to a national
network and the FBI. Mandatory
reporting rules made sure that each
court and law enforcement agency
sent information to the central files.
For a long time, state depositories and
the FBI did not maintain juvenile records
unless the individual was tried as an adult.
As juvenile crime increased in the
last decade, including some highly
publicized school shootings, public
demand for this information has risen
sharply. In 1992, new rules were adopted
to disseminate juvenile records.
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CONVICTION VS NON-CONVICTION DATA
There is virtually no restriction on
private access to criminal conviction
information. Many states also allow
access to uncharged police reports.
An older record with no conviction may
be restricted at the central state
depository but is easily obtained
at the courthouse.
THE DAWN OF THE INTERNET
If you have not noticed, just about
for sale on the internet
including your criminal record. Two
trends make this possible.
Central state depositories and
individual court systems are beginning
to place their records online and
sell access directly to the public.
The private sector has followed this
trend and now offers comprehensive
record access in every state. These
companies provide information from
the central depositories and
the individual courts.
TRY THIS SIMPLE EXPERIMENT
Log on to any major search engine
and type in "criminal record." Count
the number of companies willing
to sell you information on anyone.
Click here to find out how your
record can hurt you.
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