The FBI is taking the unprecedented step of allowing its national criminal-history database and fingerprinting catalog to be used to screen Hurricane Katrina evacuees seeking shelter in private homes as well as the people offering to house them, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The agency also is making its database available for background checks on relief workers and volunteers. The FBI is not giving the public direct access to the databases; it is allowing local sheriff’s offices to perform the checks.
The highly restricted National Crime Information Center database is accessible only to local, state, and federal law-enforcement officers. The $24 fee charged for that service and for fingerprinting is being waived for potential benefactors of Katrina victims. Likewise, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will waive the $23 fee it normally charges to check statewide arrest records, which are available to the public already. The moves could help the thousands of people who want to open their homes to evacuees but are worried about putting themselves or their families in danger. The NCIC database includes about 20 different types of information such as listings on sex offenders, missing persons, deported felons and foreign fugitives. The FBI took the step because so many people have requested criminal-background checks during the hurricane-recovery effort.