Latest SEARCH Report Examines Civil Fingerprint Retention Issues

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In recent years, criminal record background checks have rapidly expanded to encompass a wide range of non-criminal justice uses, such as licensing and employment screening.

Fingerprints submitted for these types of background checks, known as civil or applicant prints, are retained by some State criminal record repositories and used in programs that notify employers should an employee be subsequently arrested (known as a "rap back" or "hit notice" service). In addition, they may be matched against databases of latent fingerprints (those of unknown individuals obtained from crime scenes and other sources).

Through these efforts, individuals who pose safety risks are identified and may be removed from sensitive positions or prosecuted for the crimes to which they are connected.

The ability to use civil prints in this manner has taken public safety to new heights. However, issues that may arise when civil fingerprints are used beyond their intended purpose could negatively impact these beneficial uses.

These issues are addressed in SEARCH's newest publication, Report of the National Focus Group on the Retention of Civil Fingerprints by Criminal History Record Repositories. The report, which is based on the Focus Group's deliberations, related research and a national survey, examines the civil fingerprint environment and highlights key issues that law- and policymakers should consider if they wish to introduce or support the continued practice of retaining applicant fingerprints after a background check has been completed.

It is now available on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) site.

Focus Group Effort
The National Focus Group was convened by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, and SEARCH, to examine state and federal civil fingerprint retention procedures and to develop a report to inform policy makers about the merits of retaining civil fingerprints and encourage them to expand retention practices while being mindful of privacy and confidentiality protections when and where appropriate.

The focus group included representatives from the SEARCH Membership Group, as well as state criminal history repositories, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Policy Board and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The focus group also reviewed a survey of state civil fingerprint retention practices that SEARCH conducted to support the civil print retention project. The survey found a variety of civil fingerprint retention practices among the 44 responding states. Sixteen of the states reported retaining almost all submitted civil fingerprints, while nine responding states retained no civil fingerprints. The other responding states fell somewhere within that spectrum.

More details about the Focus Group effort are available at