Today we look at the mother of all criminal record databases: the National Criminal Information Center, or NCIC. This is a compilation of various criminal record files that are maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The files of greatest interest for background check purposes tend to be the list of wanted persons, and individuals who have been “charged with serious and/or significant offenses”.

The NCIC actually has seven categories of people in its database. In addition to the two mentioned above, it includes:

  • Missing persons.
  • People the Secret Service believes are a danger to the President or other protected individuals.
  • Members of violent gangs. Note that you do not have to be arrested to make it into this category.
  • Members of terrorist organizations. As with gangs, proof is optional.
  • Unidentified persons. Includes the dead, as well as the living who don’t know or can’t express who they are.

The criminal record files are backed up by fingerprints and other identifiers.

It is clear from looking at this list that NCIC is designed to cover a lot more than criminal convictions. There are also few restrictions from placing someone in the database. Since NCIC is effectively limited to law enforcement use, this did not cause problems for employment screeners at first. But with the events of 9-11 there has been increased interest in using NCIC for employment screening. If you are a hazardous material truck driver, as of May 2005 you must pass an NCIC check. This and other security measures were passed as part of the Patriot Act. Some of us are also glad to see that nuclear power plants are considered worthy of this level of protection. And apparently, we work very closely with Canadian law enforcement.

So far, this is fairly specialized. But the most typical case in which NCIC ends up playing a role in employment screening is via state statute. As a result, it is increasingly used for jobs that involve dealing with children, the elderly, or the disabled.

There are certain issues with using the NCIC directly, rather than going through a background check company. NCIC simultaneously has too much and too little information. It will have records from people who were never convicted of a crime. It will also reveal the existence of criminal records that have been expunged. (Note that you have the right to request your own NCIC record in an effort to correct this, although the effectiveness is not completely clear — the record and its removal may still show up.) It may or may not have all the records that are available through a local search.

For now, NCIC is not available to the majority of employers. Commercial criminal background checks offer a product that that is tailored for business users.


  1. chris April 25, 2007 at 6:55 PM - Reply

    Is this somnething they run you through when you clear customs to reenter the country after you’ve gone somewhere on a trip? Would something like a felony DUI show up and would it create problems when trying to re-enter the US?

  2. ESK April 26, 2007 at 11:45 PM - Reply

    If you are a U.S. citizen, I doubt any check will be run on you as long as you have your passport. If you are a non-citizen, I really don’t know, though I imagine if the DUI was a problem they would alter your immigration status at the time of the offense. However, I am not a lawyer.

  3. lana July 9, 2007 at 11:50 PM - Reply

    will a first time dui offense show up on the ncic?

  4. Erica S. Kane July 13, 2007 at 5:05 PM - Reply

    Generally speaking, all arrests and convictions are supposed to show up in NCIC. Remember, though, most employers can’t access it.

  5. Del May 5, 2023 at 5:48 PM - Reply

    My school is requesting one and by law i dont understand it

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