It is a common misconception that public records, in particular, criminal records, are available to researchers online. Your end user customers may have the idea that you can simply log in to “the portal” and search the database to uncover any notable findings about their prospective employee or tenant.
The myth is: All courthouses make their records available to the public online, so it’s a simple matter of searching the courthouse database for a researcher to find what they need.
The truth is: Each of the nation’s more than 3,000 jurisdictions operates uniquely in terms of what (if any) information they make available and how it is accessible. To make things even more complex, what’s available today might be different tomorrow.
How does this truth impact CRAs and end users?
Accuracy, completeness and availability of online records can be very different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, turnaround times also differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction–sometimes dramatically. Without transparency into the equation, this reality can make managing client expectations difficult. On top of this, and with information changing all the time, your provider needs to stay on top of the changes in order to be able to give you the transparency you need, in order to keep client expectations in check.
Does your research provider vet online sources for accuracy and completeness?
The answer to this question can have far-reaching impacts. There are no shortcuts. To be able to continuously provide accurate data and transparent turnaround times, your research provider must consistently monitor the public records access sites to ensure they are delivering the expected data. For example, some courts have started redacting date of birth information from the public records. Others make only certain types of criminal records available. Vetting these sites through daily automated testing can help make sure they have the right information available, and that they’re complete and accurate.
Hopefully this discussion about the myth of online public records research can help you both explain and better understand the limitations of online research. Talk to your data provider about how they handle changes in public records access and how these changes impact your business.