Despite being someone who doesn’t seem to mind displaying much of his personal life in public fora, I am deeply troubled by our exponentially eroding privacy rights.
The latest website stripping away walls is http://www. criminalsearches. com. (I don’t want to directly link to it, sorry.)
Click on the site and within a few seconds, you can find out which of your family members, friends, frenemies, colleagues, neighbors, and potential clients, sitters, and lovers have a rap sheet.
(If you’re like me, you’re going to spend the next hour looking up the criminal history of everyone you know. Go ahead. Come back here when you’re finished.)
One of the many disturbing aspects of the site is that it can include routine traffic violations — even ones that were dismissed with traffic school. But even worse, some jurisdictions don’t release the details of the violation and simply throw it into the category of “OTHER,” leaving people to wonder whether you were guilty of something harmless like a busted tail light or something harmful like involuntary manslaughter.
Though the website claims that everything you read is part of the public record, I question that. I suspect the site includes information that was only intended to be made accessible to limited parties (e.g., day care centers, nursing homes, etc.). Plus, the website does not guarantee accuracy. Thus, you could convince a court to expunge your record, but the website has no obligation to follow suit.
Yet another reason to be alarmed is that this web site makes life so much easier for identity thieves. (Not coincidentally, the site features ads for identity theft.)
Sure, background checks have been around for a long time. But the cost and time involved ensured that it was only used in limited situations. Criminal Searches .com is free and the (falsely) incriminating information is a few seconds away.
As a result, employers have little incentive not to visit the site and illegally discriminate against those whose names pop up on the site. (Google background checks are already routine for many employers.)
Why would it be illegal? In many jurisdictions, employers are barred from asking or seeking information about certain types of criminal histories such as arrests and misdemeanors. (Employers can almost always inquire about felony convictions.) For example, in California, an employer cannot ask about marijuana convictions that are over two years old.
But what’s to stop an employer from looking up prospective employee Jerry Garcia on the website and discovering that he was busted for pot possession 2.5 years ago? Sure, there are thousands of Jerry Garcias – but all an employer needs is his birthday to narrow the pool down. Jerry will never learn that his pot brownies prevented him from getting the job.
If a man with the name Jerry Garcia can get blacklisted, you can imagine how much worse it will be for someone with a unique name like mine.
Which is to say, Criminal Searches .com has the potential to kill job prospects for hundreds of thousands of people and long-term dating prospects for thousands more.
You’ll know that the site is popular when the invitations to your neighbor’s Tupperware parties stop coming and the person who stole your identity can’t get a job at Wal-Mart.
(Hat Tip to Annalisa Z, who does not have a criminal record because she obviously changed her name to hide her homicidal past)