States Agree to Swap Crime Data Files

Governors in Nevada and Florida are poised to sign legislation that clears the way for interstate sharing of criminal history files for non-criminal justice purposes, such as background checks for bus drivers and school teachers.

The two states are the latest to ratify the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact, which was included in a law signed by President Clinton last fall.

The compact is designed to enable states to swap criminal history files for purposes other than law enforcement. "What we've been doing is providing states with FBI records. But we want to link the state record system with ours so states can use other states' records rather than FBI records," said Emmet Rathbun, a unit chief in the programs development section of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Systems division. States that ratify the compact offer reciprocity and provide records other states need, he said.

In late March, Montana signed legislation ratifying the compact. Montana's H.B. 106 (161.7.127.14/bills/billhtml/HB0106.htm) seeks to "allow the state to directly answer inquiries from other states about an individual's criminal history in Montana," according to state documents.

"One thing that this compact will do is establish the framework for all of this to function. In addition, it creates a Compact Council of 15 members primarily from the states which will set policies and procedures. So this gives states a firm role in all of this," Rathbun said.Through criminal justice associations such as the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics (www.search.org), the FBI is urging other states to pass similar legislation. "Ideally, we would have everyone," Rathbun said. "But many legislatures have adjourned, so we are trying to get legislatures ready to submit bills for the next session, and many states are doing so."

Even with the paths cleared for data exchange, the FBI will remain a broker of the information and will manage the index. "We will be the center of the star," Rathbun said. The FBI also will maintain the national fingerprint index and database of numerical identifiers for people with criminal records. Those functions will go live in July as the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

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