FBI Criminal Database Includes 77 Million Americans

Thursday, August 21, 2014
(novel by Paul Magrs)

Adult Americans have a one in three chance of being in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) criminal database, due to the records compiled on more than 77 million people by the agency.


These files for criminal behavior can be accessed if a person applies for a new job and their potential employer runs a background check, according to The Wall Street Journal.


But many of the Americans with a database entry are in the system only because they were arrested, even though they were never charged or convicted of a crime. Records are often not updated to reflect that an individual was found not guilty or guilty of a minor offense, such as trespassing while exercising free speech rights during a demonstration.


“There is a myth that if you are arrested and cleared that it has no impact,” said Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown. “It’s not like the arrest never happened.”


But if a background check turns up a “red flag,” regardless of what the action was that put them in the database, the result can ruin someone’s attempt to get a new job or a bank loan they’re qualified for. The U.S. Census Bureau is the defendant in a class-action suit brought by African-American applicants who were turned down for work during the 2010 count because of arrest records.


Even if you already have a job, an erroneous record can haunt you. The Defense Department will be screening employees reporting for work on military installations through the FBI database, according to Nextgov. The move is coming in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shootings last year.


More people are at risk of being caught up in the system because the FBI’s record system is growing by 10,000 to 12,000 new names a day, the Wall Street Journal’s Gary Fields and John Emshwiller reported.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

As Arrest Records Rise, Americans Find Consequences Can Last a Lifetime (by Gary Fields and John Emshwiller, Wall Street Journal)

Getting on Military Bases Is about to Involve FBI Background Checks (by Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov)


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