While there are advantages to living in an age of instant information via the Internet, it also sometimes comes at great cost to our privacy--even to the point of violating our Constitutional right to be considered “innocent until proven guilty.”
Most people are familiar with data brokers—companies that collect and sell personal information about consumers. What you might not know, however, is that these data brokers can easily get access to your arrest and criminal records without your knowledge or consent, then sell this information to third-party companies for a profit. This means that even if you were arrested but never charged with a crime, the information surrounding your arrest can still be aggregated and sold--sometimes faster than you can be released from custody!
Instant Information in the Name of Transparency
An article recently published on Wired drives this point home poignantly, revealing how “reputation management” companies purchase this information to market their services to people who have been recently arrested--even those who have been cleared of wrongdoing--offering to remove their “mug shot” from the Internet when it shouldn't even be available. It also shows how potential employers and credit providers often purchase this information (not available in criminal background checks) to assess risk and determine whether or not to hire you or extend your credit. The data brokers can get away with these practices because transparency laws in the U.S. require arrest and criminal records to be public--and worst of all, some states even profit from the fees they charge information brokers to access this data, effectively encouraging the practice.
Dealing With the Fallout
In theory, at least, the criminal justice system in America should ensure that you are not labeled as a criminal unless you have actually been convicted of a crime. But in reality, thanks to a toxic combination of the digital age, commercialism, and transparency laws, information about you now travels at the speed of light—even information that has since become irrelevant and obsolete, such as an arrest that led to no charges or criminal charges that were dismissed for lack of evidence. As a result, your online reputation can still be besmirched over public arrest records even though your criminal background check comes up clean.
Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to prevent this type of information from being compiled and sold--but here in New Jersey, you still have some options for managing the flow of damaging information. These include:
- Petitioning for arrest records to be expunged. If your arrest did not turn up any criminal charges, you may be eligible to have those records expunged, so there is no record of your arrest.
- Petitioning for expungement of your criminal record. Some crimes are now eligible for automatic expungement in New Jersey after a number of years, while others may require a specific petition. But if you've served the time and you are eligible, an expungement can have your criminal records sealed so data brokers can no longer see them.
Seeking expungement is an involved process, and you need the help of an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to ensure it is done right. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. Call today at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case.