If you are a fan of true crime television like Law and Order or NCIS, I’m sure you have seen the episode where they pull a fingerprint off a gun, or car door analyze it and instantly get a full description of the suspect, which enables them to solve the case!  In a perfect world like Hollywood that does exist, but in the real world it couldn’t be further from the truth.

An FBI fingerprint based search will return records from the FBI database also known as the NCIC based on fingerprint recognition.  Fingerprints are collected in connection with an arrest usually during the booking process, the FBI stores the fingerprints in their database for life.  The database is used for various types of screening:

  • Employment
  • Firearms
  • Volunteer
  • Licensing

We will focus on the employment purpose for conducting FBI Fingerprint Background Checks.

There are misconceptions surrounding these types of searches that we will provide clarity on.  The following limitations are true about fingerprint based searches:

  • There currently isn’t a search capable of capturing “real time” criminal information from each county courthouse nationwide (all felony and misdemeanor records are stored in each county throughout the US).
  • The FBI database isn’t available to all employers, only certain industries have legal authority to perform these searches. Usually they are:
    • Educational Facilities
    • Financial Institutions
    • Churches
    • Youth Sports
    • In-Home Health Care
  • States and Counties where all public record information is stored may not contribute all records to the FBI database therefore limiting the records that employers can use. This can lead to incomplete files and not the most current and up to date information.
  • Turnaround times in most cases are delayed due to FBI processing a high volume of search requests, along with candidate access to fingerprint collection sites.

As an alternative to FBI fingerprint checks are backgrounds performed by a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) or also known as a Professional Screening Firm.  Companies in this space are tightly regulated by the federal FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) and state law (i.e. California ICRAA) along with city and county compliance statutes as well.  A CRA complies public record information from various sources of information:

  • County Courthouses
  • Statewide Criminal Repositories
  • Educational Facilities
  • Previous Employers
  • Driving Records / License History
  • Identity Verification

As a requirement under the Fair Credit Reporting Act CRA’s and Employers have a duty to only use the most accurate and up to date public record informiaotn when making an informed hiring decision.  Not relying on databases that have numerous limitations dealing with incomplete sentencing/disposition and subject identifiers (full name and date of birth match).

Another protection under a professional background check that is not available for FBI fingerprint background checks is the opportunity to dispute the findings of the screening report (especially if adverse action is going to be taken).  The FCRA explicitly states that consumers are allowed the opportunity to contact the CRA or background screening company that procured the report in order to identify in inaccuracies that can change the outcome of the report.