Back in the early 1970s, the question of who would have access to criminal history records maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its computerized National Crime Information Center (NCIC) was a hot civil rights and privacy issue.
Times have changed. The new concern is that more, rather than fewer, people should be able to find out quickly whether a person has a criminal past, or whether a car, gun or other property is related to a crime somewhere else in the country.
There seem to be more criminals, more crimes, and, thanks to computers, more of a chance of quickly matching things up -- but only for those who are plugged into the bureau's NCIC system. So pressure is developing to give more agencies on the fringe of the state and local criminal justice community access to NCIC.
By law, the FBI can give criminal history information only to official criminal justice agencies. That limitation has been loosened somewhat to permit state and local agencies involved in employment or licensing to obtain records, but only if they are authorized by federal or state statue and their access is specifically approved by the attorney general.
There is another type of NCIC record, however, to which additional groups of quasi-law enforcement agencies are seeking direct access through their own computer terminals that can request and receive immediately the information the agencies seek.
They want to get at stolen property reports, lists of wanted or missing persons, gun files, missing auto and securities files and the like, all of which are instantly available to agencies with terminal access.
Campus police agencies from different colleges and universities around the country form one exemplary group seeking their own terminals, according to a notice in the June 8 Federal Register (page 30433). Other groups include railroad police agencies and departments of motor vehicles.
Access is determined by FBI regulations, which are guided by law. The bureau, however, has created a 26-man advisory policy board for NCIC, which will take up the access question for campus police and the others at a public meeting June 17-18 in Boise, Idaho.
The board's recommendations will go to FBI Director William Webster, who will decide who qualifies for terminal access and act on any other proposed changes.