It won't be long before folks in Colorado can call up their neighbors' arrest records on their home computers. But at least one national privacy rights group is not happy with that possibility.
The state hopes to get bids for the development of the new public-access background-check Web site by September.
"All you will need is the name and date of birth" to pull up a person's arrest record, said Sue Bailey, program manager for Colorado's Civil Identification program.
Right now, anyone can do a statewide criminal check by mail, phone or in person through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Denver. It costs $10.
"We get everything from grandma checking on daughter's new boyfriend to people in wrecks checking on the other guy, nannies just about everything" Bailey said.
Bailey added that the new method will be almost instant, making it more convenient for the state, and residents doing the research.
"Oooh, bad," said Beth Givens of the California-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "We don't believe arrest records should be made available to the public on the Internet or anywhere."
"You can't even count on some of these databases for correction information," she added.
However, the new CBI Web site may be of interest to employers who have to do background checks quickly.
"It certainly can't hurt as long as we're getting the right kind of information," said Chuck Vale, Routt County emergency manager.
Vale and other Routt County emergency workers have been concerned about efficient background checks for their workers.
Like Givens, Vale said an arrest record could be misleading. He said he and others need conviction records to make important decisions.
However, Bailey said that can't be guaranteed.
"All of the records will be based on arrest records. The only way we know if someone was convicted is if they send us their court disposition," Bailey said.
That means convictions may not be shown on the background check unless a court record is sent in to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Givens, director of the non-profit Clearinghouse, said she can't see much good coming from employers checking arrest records only.
"I can see employers surreptitiously looking at these records and making decisions on something that may not have led to a conviction or may not be accurate at all," Givens said.
At first, Bailey expects plenty of questions from the public on how to use the new Web site.
But the hope is that people doing their own computer criminal background check will save the state time and money.
And what exactly will you find on the Web site?
It all depends on what the various police and sheriff's departments send into CBI.
"Some will only send Class 1 misdemeanors and felonies, some will send us 'dog at large,'" Bailey said.
"About the only thing we don't release is if the person has had it (the record) sealed," she added.
Florida has a similar criminal background check system, but it hasn't been made available to the public yet.
"We opened it up to our customers who do rapid criminal checks," said Charles Schaeffer, Systems Programming Administrator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "We're waiting for feedback from them. We're trying to make it user friendly to the public."
Schaeffer warns Colorado officials that it took Florida a year and a half to get everything running, so be patient.
Meanwhile, both states are working to make sure that data going onto any Web site doesn't violate a citizen's right to privacy.
Bailey estimates the state will charge about $5 for the Web-based criminal background check. She says the information requested should be e-mailed back to the customer in a matter of minutes.
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