State conviction records fuel a burgeoning industry

Big companies and small are buying up local conviction records as background databases become a lucrative industry.

Local governments routinely sell records of criminal and motor vehicle convictions to a range of businesses. In Connecticut, for example, the court system charges $1,400 a year for such records, the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American notes.

That's small potatoes. The newspaper reports that huge database companies like ChoicePoint and Lexis Nexus, as well as a range of small fry, are scooping up this information for lucrative resale.

Richard Gagnon, the only principal of American Resume Audits LLC listed in state business filings, answered the phone himself at the company's Manchester offices. One of the company's clients is Saint Mary's Hospital in Waterbury. Gagnon preferred not to talk about his company's business.

But Sterling Testing Systems, a much bigger business based in New York City, publicly boasts of having 6,000 clients worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies.

LexisNexis, one of the world's largest database producers, is a purchaser, and an affiliate of competitor ChoicePoint Inc., which is also downloading conviction records.

While the resale of the data is a booming business, it raises thorny issues of privacy vs the right to know.

"I don't think it is going to slow any time soon," said Tena Friery, research director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group based in San Diego, Calif. "Technology has made these kinds of data brokers possible. ... Public records are available to anyone, no questions asked," Friery said.

In Connecticut, the Judicial Department made a whopping $39,100 from downloading fees last year.


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