Should we check criminal record stories online?

In short – no. We understand that some employers use web and social media searches to ‘corroborate’ an applicant’s criminal record disclosure.This is a bad idea because:

Employers are likely to encounter data they are not legally entitled to collect

For most roles, employers are only legally able to collect data about unspent criminal records. Web search results will not differentiate between spent and unspent criminal records. It would be unlawful to use spent (or protected) criminal records information found online to make a decision about an applicant for most roles.

Some people are easier to search than others

Certain names will produce more search results than others. People with non-anglicised names may be easier to find out about online, which could mean that you get more information for certain applicants than for others.

Court reporting is also inconsistent and in decline in England and Wales. Some people may not have any details about their criminal record published online, which means this is not a reliable source of information, even if it were legitimate to collect. The fact that someone’s record is online does not indicate relevance for employer – it may just indicate that a court reporter was in attendance on the day (in one study, of 240 cases heard in a week, only 3 were reported on in the media).

News stories are unreliable

One means of drawing engagement to news stories is by provoking an emotional response in the reader. This can mean that content found online will highlight certain parts of a story over others. For example, they could describe someone’s actions in a fight without explaining how they were feeling or what happened prior to the altercation. News stories can also contain simple factual inaccuracies. If looking to understand the context and attitudes towards a criminal record, the only useful source of this information is the person themselves.


The Information Commissioner’s Office explains:

You should not search for candidates on their personal social media profiles, even when these are public-facing. People are unlikely to expect employers to obtain information about them in this way. You risk obtaining information about them which is detrimental or reveals special category information. You should avoid this as it is intrusive, high risk, and not likely to reveal relevant information.

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