Criminal Records Online
I just read this on a new service called CriminalSearches.com. It’s basically this guy Rob Miller who has been selling government records to consumers for the past 20 years and he’s now put his (giant) database of criminal records online for free for anyone to access. This is going to end well. I think CriminalSearch will dwarf Zillow in terms of pointless, non-monetizable usage and now instead of checking monthly to see what your neighbor’s house is worth, you’ll be checking to see if your neighbor has run afoul of the law.
The service is totally free (the model is ad driven) and it’s easy and instantaneous (you type in a name and presto!). So naturally, the first thing I did was to check and see what my own record looked like. I was shocked to learn that I have a conviction for a "Violation Basic Rule" in 1989 in Oregon. That sounds terrible until or unless you know that a VBR is a normal traffic ticket in Oregon. CriminalSearch has a notice that reads, "Some states include minor
traffic offenses in the data that we receive; however, these people
might not be actual criminals." Great. I hope everyone knows what a VBR is…
But it gets better. It turns out there is the same VBR on the same date issued to a guy by the name of Furquan Nazeeri [note the misspelling of my first name with the "U" after the "Q"] who, strangely, lives at my mom’s old house! That gives me a lot of confidence in the database…it has ficticious people! CriminalSearch helpfully instructs me to "contact the source of the records if you think there is an error." And what source would that be?
In poking around the site, I noticed that states vary dramatically in how much data they release or allow to be posted. Oregon, it turns out, puts up everything, whereas Massachusetts, for example, only has sex offenders (which is already available online via the state’s website). The site also has a mashup using Google Maps which for downtown Portland, OR looks like you’re living in Rikers Island (see the screen shot below).
I’ve noticed that the CriminalSearch website is bogged down obviously under heavy load from everyone checking it out. I think this is going to be all over the press this week.
So what do I think about this? Well, information wants to be free so it’s going to be hard to restrict public records from being public. The challenge as I see it, is that these records were collected in an era where they weren’t really meant to be this public so they say things they shouldn’t, they have errors and frankly they’re embarrassing to a lot of people. It’s like the kids who put crazy things on their Facebook and MySpace pages before realizing that employers would look at them. Now we’re all in that boat and I guess as the screen shot above shows, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone!"