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Business - Written by on Tuesday, August 5, 2008 15:28 - 8 Comments

Hidden Skeleton in Your Closet? Think Again.

I will be the first to admit that I am something of a Facebook stalker. Although it sounds creepy, it just means that I have kept up with friends’ lives via Facebook. Some Facebook stalkers take it to a whole new level, browsing strangers’ profiles within their networks. I do not do that.

I say all of this to preface the fact that I am not really a stalker even though I just spent the last hour on criminalsearches.com, where anyone can enter in someone’s name and get a whole list of criminal offenses ( if any) for free. Most criminal records are public information and anyone can search individual state databases for free. The cool thing about CriminalSearches is that it aggregates all of these disjointed databases and delivers a more comprehensive result with much less time and effort. Launched just last month, CriminalSearches is garnering serious attention.

So what did I turn up in an hour’s time? I found my black sheep cousin and all six of his quite impressive drug and alcohol convictions. I even found an old high school teacher (who was fired the year after I graduated) who now has a conviction for assault. Nice.

In my last blog I pondered my personal brand and how to manage my information. While I am fortunate—or maybe just law abiding—enough to not have any dubious offenses tarnishing my online identity, there are likely thousands more who find themselves struggling to move past a youthful indiscretion or other similarly embarrassing-but-not-as-bad-as-it-sounds offense in a society that highly stigmatizes criminal activity.

In theory, a judge decides how much time and effort it will cost a convict to repay their debt to society. After that period is over, the ex-convict’s debt is considered paid and the ex-convict moves on with their life. But now, with such data so readily available, a convict’s debt to society will now be decided by the court of public opinion for better or worse.

CriminalSearches may become a powerful law enforcement tool. One blog about CriminalSearches describes how a family researched the criminal record of the person suspected of killing their son. The blogger claims that the site’s alias information helped investigators find missing records that put the suspect behind bars.

While that may be a rare case, it benefits society to be able to thoroughly screen people they come in contact with and in whom they place their trust. While some people may be upset to find themselves listed as a criminal for a traffic offense, others will highly value this information when hiring drivers and nannies and babysitters. Parents could even look up their kids’ friends’ parents to see if they are safe drivers and trustworthy people before letting their kids hop in the backseat or attend a sleepover.

But there is a fine balance between society’s right to know and the individual’s right to move on with their lives. How will society adapt to such pervasive and powerful information in an increasingly voyeuristic world?

In any case, better look yourself up and see what dirt there is on you. It’s all a part of curating that ever-expanding online identity. If you find incorrect information, such as a ticket that was supposed to be dismissed or expunged, contact the authority that issued the citation and clean up your image. It’s the only one you get.



8 Comments

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Joseph Logan
Aug 5, 2008 16:02

Those questions are anything but trivial. You’ll probably get scores of people saying “OMG! I looked myself up and found…” Mine turned up an HOV lane violation of which I was not aware (seriously?) and someone with my precise name and very nearly the same date of birth who has gotten into much more trouble than I. One of the challenges here seems to be that there are not the usual avenues of recourse one would have with a credit record, for example. That would seem to set up some Kafka-esque dilemmas.

Like an in-absentia conviction for driving in the HOV lane, for example…

Avinash
Aug 5, 2008 19:17

Thank goodness I have such a unique name. I am omnipotent!

The only way to undo personal bad is to do personal good. If you’ve commited a crime, you can rectify it by showing contrition instead of wailing at the system.

Realize that most employers won’t care if you’re a duitful public servant, contribute to charities, create value for other people, or just do things that put you in the right. Just as the Internet can be a tool for bad image-branding, it can do the same to put you in the good.

Brent
Aug 6, 2008 20:01

I suppose you would have to look at whether there is “plausible deniability.” If you can convince people that “that person” really isn’t you, then you should be fine. Otherwise, I suppose you could wear a disguise, so people wouldn’t recognize you.

~ender
Aug 7, 2008 6:10

You can also have records expunged or corrected.

The question is, are these guys going to update their databases? If they do not, then they’re liable for libel and/or defamation. But online libel has some stringent limits, so after expunging, I would contact them to make sure they’re aware of the changes, and put them on warning.

Of course, the libel laws are changing. First published stuff gets something like a 1 year limit for you to challenge, but one should be able to argue that being available on the internet is continous publication… but we’ll have to see how the courts rule.

Their nice litle website might start having some issues when they’ve got to defend themselves in every court of law in the world. In the world? Yeah, go read about some of that fun stuff in which publishers in Russia are being sued by people in America in UK courts (because those courts have the best laws for libel and slander). Crazeee.

Brittany Creamer
Aug 11, 2008 10:34

It would be nice if there was a similar site that listed all of a person’s good contributions to society-such as an aggregated list of all of their charitable contributions, juries served on, etc. How else will an employer know if your good outweighs your bad?

My 8 a.m. Media Law class is a little fuzzy so I could be wrong, but I am not sure if CrimeSearches could be sued since it only reports data the government publishes, so I think this site has some protection. Time will tell.

RaiulBaztepo
Mar 28, 2009 17:08

Hello!
Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

Yuan Ding
Apr 17, 2009 11:13

Interesting post, Brittany Do you happen to know if there is a site for Canadians? The current search engine is classified by states, but not provinces…
Apparently the town of Hamilton has its own version but what I found interesting is this quote that appeared on their website:

Criminal Records Search is not intended for individuals seeking a volunteer and/or employment position with children or vulnerable persons.
http://www.hamiltonpolice.on.ca/HPS/Services/Records/CriminalRecordsSearch.htm

Is this an attempt to give offenders a fresh start? After all what they did is in the past and life is only so long to live in the shadow of regrets. That being said, I personally would not feel comfortable mowing the law for an elderly neighbour only to find out later that he was convicted for pedophilia through this website.

Nevertheless, technology (electronic records in this case) is skating on thin ice. That grey zone between violating an individual’s privacy and disclosing public information is getting murkier by the minute. With the help of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and sites like this one, we find ourselves judging others before we even get a chance to meet them in person. What happened to the gool ol’ days where trust was generally strong in society and judgements were made AFTER getting to know the person?

Angie
May 27, 2009 9:37

Criminalsearches.com database is not up to date and therefore they are guilty of libel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot believe this site has not been shut down!! My record has been sealed, meaning it cannot be viewed by the public, well there it is on criminalsearches.com. I have asked for this to be removed, but it is still there. This is libel!!!!!!!

I also know of people with a criminal record where nothing shows up!

Horrible website that is inaccurate!!!

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