5 Limitations of FBI Background Checks

fbi background checksDo you wish you had access to do FBI background checks?  Come on, be honest.  You have watched CSI and if you have young kids you know Toys R Us sells fingerprint kits. Heck, one of my old buddies from the Nashville Police Department used to lift fingerprints with silly putty.  I don’t know that it gained much national attention because he relied on a small sample study:  his young child playing on the living room floor with silly putty and a newspaper.  The birth of a high tech investigative technique.

Well, what we mean by FBI background checks is a search of the FBI’s database which is called NCIC (National Crime Information Center).  It sounds so techie, sophisticated and complete.

How could it not be the best if it requires fingerprints?  Well, fingerprints are a tool to identify people.  Databases such as NCIC take a fingerprint and match it to a criminal record.

I was recently fingerprinted (my wife is a retired cop and likes to periodically double check my identity) and the system rejected one finger because it could not read the print because of small scar. Hmm.  Would bad guys use cuts or acid to alter their fingerprints?

However, that same sophistication that has uncovered terrorist plots, money laundering, mafia kingpins and cyber criminals does not compute to an accurate or complete criminal background check.


  1. FBI Relies on Law Enforcement.  NCIC is only as good as the data provided by law enforcement agencies.  Some law enforcement agencies do not have NCIC certification and other states do not send all of their criminal data.
  2. Data is Predominantly Arrest-Related.  This presents legal risks for employers since the EEOC greatly restricts the use of non-conviction data.   Several states do not allow the use of non-convictions.  The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the use of up-to-date information so the FBI database could place private employers at risk of a negligent hiring lawsuit.
  3. Slow turnaround.  It can take from a few weeks to up to 8 weeks to get the results.  What employer can hold a position for 8 weeks?
  4. Limited Access.  The state and FBI must authorize access to the database.  Not every organization can access NCIC.
  5. May Not See Report.  Indiana schools using the FBI checks through the State’s Inkless System do not see the final report.  They receive a “thumbs up” or ‘thumbs down” from the Indiana State Police.  How scary is that as an employer?

The truth is the FBI background checks are just like all proprietary criminal databases.  They are a great tool but should never be used as a stand-alone screening program.