Vermont’s searchable online criminal record database, launched last week, is among about 20 operated by various states, reports the Associated Press. The Web sites provide a valuable and time-saving service to employers by allowing them to look up criminal convictions without having to submit written requests and wait for the responses. They’re popular: Last month, Florida’s site performed 38,755 record checks.
The Internet debut of information historically kept in courthouses in paper files can magnify the harm of clerical errors, expose states to liability for mistakes, and spell new headaches for people who’ve long since done their time, only to have information about their crime bared anew. “It’s unfortunate in that it threatens what I see as the uniquely American ideal of being able to start over, after you’ve paid your penance, to go to a new community without the blemish of your crime and starting a new life,” said Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based group focused on civil liberties online.