In the digital realm, an online background check is essentially a deep dive into someone’s digital footprint, uncovering personal, financial, and criminal histories. These checks are not solely confined to a formal hiring process or residential application anymore. They have made their way into various aspects of our daily lives, ranging from online dating to networking and business partnerships.
Online background checks can span across a broad spectrum of information, from an individual’s social media presence to public records and beyond. It’s important to note that the depth of this investigation can vary significantly based on the level of access the searcher has and the individual’s online activity.
So what exactly is an online background check, and how does it work? An online background check is a process of searching and verifying a person’s criminal history, identity, education, employment, and other records using various sources of information, such as public databases, court records, social media, and online directories. Online background checks can be performed by anyone with access to the internet and a valid reason to do so, such as employers, landlords, lenders, or individuals. Online background checks can reveal different types of information depending on the scope and purpose of the search, such as felony convictions, arrest records, warrants, sex offender status, civil judgments, bankruptcies, liens, etc
Impact of Background Checks
Online background checks can have a significant impact on your opportunities and rights as a felon. For example:
Many landlords also conduct online background checks on prospective or current tenants to evaluate their creditworthiness, rental history, and character. Having a felony conviction on your record can make it difficult for you to find or maintain a suitable housing option, as some landlords may deny you housing based on your criminal history or charge you higher rent or security deposits.
However, there are some laws that protect your rights as a housing applicant or tenant with a criminal record, such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which issues guidance and regulations for public housing authorities and private landlords on how to comply with the FHA and other federal laws.
Many employers conduct online background checks on potential or current employees to assess their suitability, trustworthiness, and reliability for the job. Having a felony conviction on your record can make it harder for you to find or keep a job, especially in certain industries or positions that require a high level of security, integrity, or responsibility. Some employers may reject you outright based on your criminal history, while others may consider other factors such as the nature and severity of your offense, the time elapsed since your conviction, your rehabilitation efforts, and your qualifications and skills.
However, there are some laws that protect your rights as a job applicant or employee with a criminal record, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which regulates how consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) provide and use background check reports; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces anti-discrimination laws and guidelines for employers; and the Ban the Box movement, which advocates for removing the question about criminal history from job applications and delaying background checks until later in the hiring process.
Many educational institutions also conduct online background checks on students or applicants to verify their identity, academic credentials, and behavior. Having a felony conviction on your record can affect your chances of getting admitted to or graduating from a school or college, as some institutions may reject you based on your criminal history or impose certain restrictions or conditions on your enrollment or participation.
However, there are some laws that protect your rights as a student or applicant with a criminal record, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records, and the Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides financial aid opportunities for students with criminal records.
- Other Areas
Online background checks can also affect other aspects of your life as a felon, such as your access to credit, loans, insurance, social services, voting rights, gun rights, travel rights etc. Depending on the type and source of information used in the online background check, you may face different challenges or limitations in obtaining or exercising these rights. However, there are also some laws that protect your rights as a citizen with a criminal record, such as the Privacy Act of 1974, which regulates how federal agencies collect, use, and disclose personal information, and the Second Chance Act of 2007, which supports reentry programs and services for people with criminal records.
Legal and Ethical Issues of Background Checks
Online background checks are regulated by federal and state laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Privacy Act of 1974. These laws aim to protect the rights and interests of both parties involved in online background checks, such as:
- The FCRA requires employers to obtain written consent from applicants or employees before conducting online background checks from a consumer reporting agency (CRA). It also requires employers to provide notice and disclosure to applicants or employees if they take adverse action based on the information in the online background check report, such as denying employment, promotion, or housing. The FCRA also gives applicants or employees the right to access, review, and dispute their online background check report from the CRA.
- The EEOC enforces anti-discrimination laws and guidelines for employers who conduct online background checks. It prohibits employers from using online background check information to discriminate against applicants or employees based on their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, or age. It also requires employers to consider the relevance, accuracy, and context of the online background check information in relation to the job position and the applicant’s or employee’s qualifications and skills.
- The FHA prohibits landlords from using online background check information to discriminate against tenants or applicants based on their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or familial status. It also requires landlords to apply the same standards and criteria to all tenants or applicants when conducting online background checks. The FHA also gives tenants or applicants the right to challenge any unfair or inaccurate online background check information that may affect their housing opportunities.
- The Privacy Act of 1974 regulates how federal agencies collect, use, and disclose personal information about individuals. It requires federal agencies to obtain consent from individuals before conducting online background checks from a CRA. It also requires federal agencies to provide notice and disclosure to individuals if they use online background check information for any purpose other than the one for which it was collected. The Privacy Act also gives individuals the right to access, review, and correct their online background check information from the federal agency.
In addition to these laws, online background checks are also affected by other factors, such as industry standards, contractual agreements, consent forms, and social norms. For example:
- Industry standards may vary depending on the type and level of online background checks required for different occupations or sectors. For example, some jobs may require more extensive or specific online background checks than others, such as jobs that involve security clearance, financial responsibility, or public trust.
- Contractual agreements may stipulate the terms and conditions of conducting online background checks between employers and CRAs or between employers and applicants or employees. For example, some agreements may limit the scope or duration of online background checks or specify how the online background check information will be used or stored.
- Consent forms may vary depending on the format and content of obtaining permission from applicants or employees before conducting online background checks. For example, some consent forms may be more clear or detailed than others in explaining the purpose, scope, and consequences of online background checks.
- Social norms may influence how individuals and employers perceive and respond to online background checks. For example, some individuals may be more comfortable or willing than others to share their personal information online or to undergo online background checks. Similarly, some employers may be more respectful or responsible than others in conducting online background checks or using online background check information.
In conclusion, online background checks have a profound impact on felons, affecting critical aspects of life such as housing, employment, and education. Although protective laws exist, the practical implementation often sees discrimination and bias, inhibiting felons’ societal reintegration. While online checks provide a sense of safety, it’s crucial to ensure these tools don’t perpetuate discrimination against those trying to start anew.
As digital society progresses, it’s imperative to strike a balance between societal safety and individual rights, particularly for reintegrating felons. Constant legislative review, ethical guidelines adherence, and a societal shift towards providing second chances are necessary steps toward a fairer and more equitable digital world.
So what do you think about this blog post The Digital World: Understanding Online Background Checks and Privacy Rights? Have you or someone you know been in that situation? What was that like and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.