Such information is available through a program named WATCH. It stands for Washington Access To Criminal History and is part of Gov. Gary Locke's quality improvement program.
Surprised? Don't be. The same information is available to the public by law in Washington and a number of other states, including Texas and Florida.
What's different here - and probably will be in other states soon - is the number of requests this form of access is generating from Boy and Girl Scout units, soccer clubs and other groups that can be a magnet for people with a criminal past.
Washington's Internet site (watch.wsp.wa.gov/) makes clear the ground rules: "Washington State allows anyone to obtain Washington State criminal history conviction information. With this search engine, you may request, view and print criminal history conviction records. However, to inquire about a person and to obtain his or her record, you must enter the correct date of birth and exact spelling of the person's name. Otherwise, the criminal history record you want will not be found."
Among the unexpected responses to the Web-based system for the program's administrator, P. Douglas Sund, is the number of requests generated over the Internet. The information services division commander for the Washington State Patrol managed the implementation of WATCH.
"One of the surprises was how quickly people have caught on and migrated to Internet access and away from paper. The bulk of users - boys and girls clubs, soccer teams checking on volunteers for leadership positions and coaching, for example - come by word of mouth," Sund said. "The volume has increased dramatically this year."
The data provided by Sund paint a convincing picture. In January, 1,000 inquires came via the Web site. In February, that rose to 2,000. March saw 4,000 requests; April, 6,000; and May, 10,000. He fully expects 15,000 to 16,000 when the June numbers are tallied.
Each inquiry represents a request that costs $10. This means Washington state may pull in $160,000 on criminal history requests for the first half of 1998 if Sund's estimates pan out.
Spurring the Web access was not just the desire of the Washington State Patrol to make the information more readily available. It was also the backlog of paper requests. That backlog still exists but is getting thinner. Sund expects to see even more dramatic Web numbers when the paper backlog is down to zero.
Sund is no novice to IT, which partly explains the success of the WATCH program. He gained 16 years experience with information systems while serving a range of public and private sector organizations, including law enforcement, health care, insurance, manufacturing, utilities, telecommunications, distribution, retail and transportation. His positions spanned executive-level consulting, project management, systems design, development and implementation, data center management and operations.
While Sund has yet to see the system generate a false positive - that is, a person identified as having a criminal past who, in fact, does not - he strongly encourages those that use the system to request photo identification as part of the background check and to confirm name, Social Security number and date of birth.
Sund also notes that Washington is not an open record state, meaning a state that makes available to anyone at any time individual records held by public agencies. Clearly, open record states are not the norm.
"We get a range of calls about our program," Sund said. "For example, Big Brothers and Sisters in New Mexico called recently, wanting to know how to set up a program like WATCH."
Sund tells them they need to do their homework. The first question to address is who owns the criminal history data. Is it the state's justice department, its highway patrol? The answer will determine where the data are stored.