The idea that there exists one single “national database” for background checks with accurate and complete criminal record information for every person in America is a “popular myth” fueled by movies and television crime programs, according to a blog written by a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) Board of Directors. The blog is available at

In a blog on website dated April 2013, Melissa Sorenson of the NAPBS – the leading national resource for issues related to the background screening industry – writes that “Hollywood movies and nightly television crime programs” have led many Americans to believe “that all it takes to find criminals in this country is the stroke of a computer key.” This belief has given rise to the popular myth of “a universal national database” with complete criminal information that “already exists and is readily accessible.”

In reality, however, Sorenson states that “there currently is no such thing as a single national database that contains all criminal records in the United States” but instead “many different databases used to conduct background checks on individuals.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database – seen by many as the “golden standard” for screening – is actually a collection of different database systems organized under the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC), writes Sorenson.

Sorenson explains that “the FBI database is not considered reliable as a single source for background screening purposes” and recommends other sources be used to supplement the NCIC database search. Even the FBI acknowledges the NCIC database “contains only about 50 to 55 percent of all available criminal records” along with information taken from fingerprint submissions, according to Sorenson. In addition, employer access to the FBI database is restricted in most cases except when permitted by law.

Since most employers cannot access the FBI database, Sorenson says other multi-jurisdictional databases containing criminal records from various sources – often called “national databases” – are available but should be used carefully for background checks. According to Sorenson, some key points to keep in mind if using so-called “national databases” for background checks include:

  • “National database” is misnamed since no single national database containing all criminal records in the U.S. exists.
  • Data in these multi-jurisdictional databases cannot be counted on to be 100 percent accurate and complete.
  • Data structures within the multi-jurisdictional database are not always reliable.
  • Use of data in multi-jurisdictional databases for employment background checks must comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that governs information used in background screening reports.

The best practice for background checks, suggests Sorenson, “is to use databases only as a supplement to a thorough screening program and not as the sole component” since records retrieved from multi-jurisdictional databases “are not as reliable as source data” retrieved from actual county courthouses and “should be verified by researching official court records.” That way, a background check will “provide accurate and complete information.”

Employers are realizing “national databases” that promise access to all of the nation’s criminal records in one search may not contain accurate or complete information and should never be substituted for a “hands on” county courthouse search. This trend is one of the ‘ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends for 2013’ chosen by Attorney Les Rosen, Founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources® (ESR). All trends are available at

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’ – is a nationwide screening provider accredited by the NAPBS® Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) for compliance with the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). For more information about background checks, visit or call Toll Free 888.999.4474.


About Employment Screening Resources® (ESR):

Founded by safe hiring expert Attorney Les Rosen in 1997, Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’– provides accurate and actionable information that empowers employers to make informed hiring decisions for the benefit of their organizations, employees, and the public. CEO Rosen literally wrote the book on background checks with “The Safe Hiring Manual” and ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by a small percent of screening firms. Employers choosing ESR know they have selected an agency meeting the highest industry standards. To learn more about ESR, visit or call toll free 888.999.4474.

About ESR News:

The Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected]. To subscribe to the ESR News Blog Feed, visit To subscribe to the complimentary ESRcheck Report monthly newsletter, please visit

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