FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning Professional Inquiry Inc.--P974806
PROFESSIONAL INQUIRY INC.
June 23, 1997
Secretary, Federal Trade Commission
RE: SB-600 Fair Credit Report Act
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am a licensed investigator serving a small clientele. I run background checks for new hires for the Seattle Monorail Services, Inc., I do criminal investigations for a small number of Seattle attorneys, and I help individuals with a variety of assignments. I take my work seriously and the flexibility gives me time to help care for my parents.
To stay informed I belong to the Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators and the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. As a business person I belong to the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and serve on the board of the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club. As a volunteer I have a weekly program at the Kent Correctional Facility and am a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) which supports the children of divorcing parents.
Private investigations are used regularly by the courts, businesses, insurance companies, and individuals. As with all professions, there are those who would use the knowledge and tools of their trade without ethics. The information brokers that I use have insisted that I send them a copy of my investigators license, my business license, and a copy of my credit report prior to allowing me to use their services. As an example, I subscribe to CourtLink™ through Data West, Inc. This on-line program allows me to access the Washington State Courts plus federal courts. This is public information; however, the time saved by accessing this information from my own computer allows me to respond immediately to a client such as the Seattle Monorail. In turn, if the information I receive is contrary to what the prospective new hire has told the job interviewer, this saves that organization the cost of a drug test. In this situation, potential new hires are told up-front that a criminal background search will be made.
Interestingly, in Washington State, as I recall there are approximately 26 Donald L. Johnson names that appear when doing a misdemeanor search--only the date of birth allows the user to know if the person is the one they are researching. A social security number is also an identifier that helps researchers obtain accurate information--whether used by a library clerk, a university, or an investigator--it is a standard that we in our society have found to be beneficial in identification.
It has been brought to the attention of the Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators membership that there is a movement to limit our access to data. Because we are helping the general public investigate business hires or thefts, insurance fraud, real estate fraud, child payment, and other types of activities that have an economic impact on business and private individuals, it does not seem reasonable or justifiable to limit our data sources. When one compares our work to the investigations that the U.S. Congress sometimes is involved in regarding campaign donations and sexual encounters of the third kind against persons of the opposite party--our investigations are pretty tame and sensible.
If there is misuse of data, and I am sure that there is, let us work together to make the industry more professional. In Washington State we must be licensed; however, there are only approximately 800 licensed investigators which does not afford the state much manpower to oversee our industry. We are taking steps in Washington to improve our testing and programs available for new investigators. The Settle Public Defenders Office provides an excellent training program for criminal investigators through an intern program that benefits all parties because it is cost-effective to the state and provides the professional training needed for this demanding work. Many investigators come out of police or federal agency positions where they have been well-trained, and they in turn have helped people such as myself through our association training programs. Obviously it helps that I live in an area where these programs are available.
What I did notice when I needed to take the agency license test was the shortage of literature defining the laws as they relate to private investigations. I read several popular books such as How to be Your Own Detective and How to Locate Anyone Anywhere. I took an excellent training class given by Linda Montgomery. But books which compare to those I used in taking the Washington State Real Estate Brokers exam are not readily available. A colleague who is an engineer commented upon this fact also--his state engineer license test was simple compared to the state private investigators agency test because there are no clear guidelines. I finally located a California test manual which was quite helpful in defining issues--and one that perhaps could be used as a national standard if we are given a choice between available data and standardization. With state laws varying to the extreme degrees to which they do vary regarding information, this will not be an easy undertaking. But to arbitrarily cut out vital data needed to serve the publics interest seems like cutting off ones nose to spite ones face.
Janet C. Pipes
Janet C. Pipes
cc:Senators Patty Murray & Slade Gorton