PeopleFinders, based in Sacramento, has introduced CriminalSearches.com, a free service that lets people search by name through criminal-records archives of all 50 U.S. states and 3,500 counties, says the New York Times. In the process, it just might upset a sensitive social balance once preserved by the difficulty of obtaining public documents like criminal records. Databases of criminal convictions first moved online several years ago. Users of pay sites like Intelius.com and PeopleScanner.com had to enter their credit card numbers for access – often enough of an obstacle to discourage casual or improper inquiries.
Some records are incomplete, and there is often no way to distinguish between people with the same names if you don't know their birthdays (and even that date is often missing). The site labeled a speeding ticket as a “criminal offense.” The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that employers who hire investigators to obtain criminal records from consumer reporting agencies advise prospective employees of the search in advance, and disregard some types of convictions that are older than seven years. “I don't think Congress stuck that in there randomly,” says Daniel Solove, a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School and author of “Understanding Privacy.” “Congress made the judgment that after a certain period of time, people shouldn't be harmed by having convictions stick with them forever and ever.”