Many transactions today, whether they involve an employment hiring decision or a new business relationship, are cross-border or have an international component. The need for effective risk management both in the U.S. and abroad has vastly expanded in recent years with the passing of legislation and increased enforcement actions. Behind just about every business decision, there is a widening range of stakeholders — from regulators to shareholders to board members — who expect that the due diligence process will minimize unlawful activities.

International background investigations, which are essential for a comprehensive approach to due diligence, present special challenges since each country has its own laws, customs, and procedures. Language barriers, name variations and transliterations, limited information and technology, broad definitions of crimes, and proliferation of fraudulent educational and accreditation institutions, are just some of the factors that add to the complexity of these investigations.

As a general rule, in most European countries, criminal records are not available to the public. In Asia, public accessibility to most court filings is limited. In South America, public records vary greatly from country to country. South Africa provides some disclosure of police records and warrants to the public, along with   civil filings. Canada’s public records availability differs by province, and only a few permit criminal records release. India and Australia have the most searchable records, similar to the U.S.

For employment purposes, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) imposes certain obligations for international background screening performed by a U.S. Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), including mandating reasonable procedures to ensure the accuracy of the information it reports. If a public record such as a criminal conviction is found, the CRA must ascertain that the information is correct, up-to-date, and reported in a way that does not violate data or privacy protection rules.

In 2000, an agreement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Commission established privacy and data protection guidelines, the “Safe Harbor Principles,” to enable U.S. companies to satisfy a requirement under European Union law for adequate protection of personal information transferred from the European Economic Area (the 25 member states of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.) In addition to these principles, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) requires financial institutions and businesses that receive personal information to establish safeguards for the handling and disclosure of that information. And the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), a federal legislation, also contains provisions to help reduce identity theft and obligates the proper disposal of personal consumer information.

The cost of an international background investigation typically is higher than domestic searches, and varies with each country, the type of information that needs to be obtained and the purpose of the investigation. When performed by a reputable firm with qualified foreign contacts, an international background investigation can reduce negligent hiring liability, and prevent a catastrophic investment or reputational damage.