Over the past year, state and local governments in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and San Antonio have debated the issue of requiring prospective Uber, Lyft and traditional taxi drivers to get a national criminal background check.
Uber has been particularly public in its battle against stronger background check requirements from authorities nationwide, forcing policymakers into a false choice between supporting the sharing economy and ensuring public safety.
For decades, the standard requiring those working in security and public safety positions to get fingerprint background checks has been universally accepted. Fingerprints are required for the millions of people in those occupations, including teachers, medical professionals, caregivers to the elderly and sick, stockbrokers, cab drivers, real estate agents, school volunteers and fire fighters, because they have regular unmonitored access to vulnerable populations or significant financial assets.
In fact, MorphoTrust USA conducted over six and a half million fingerprint background checks for employers and job applicants in 2016 alone. Whether it’s the government or the private sector, employers understandably want as complete a criminal profile as possible on a candidate before they can start a job.
In recent years, however, ride-sharing companies have argued that the nationwide fingerprint-based background check through the FBI is too costly, time-consuming, burdensome and even discriminatory. Those claims, according to policymakers, law enforcement officials and security experts who know the process first-hand, are wholly inaccurate – not only is the most secure background screening process both fast and easy, but there is a reason it’s still considered the gold standard for the millions of employers who have relied on it to keep the public safe for decades.
That reason is the use of fingerprints. After an applicant gets their fingerprints copied, they are run through the FBI’s database, which includes criminal record information from all 50 states, including sex offender registries. If a person has a criminal history anywhere in the U.S., it will show up. The municipality or state can then determine whether the offense is disqualifying for the job. For example, sex offenders cannot work in a school, but someone who was arrested for a relatively minor offense such as driving without a license can.
Fingerprints are not only a highly-accurate way to confirm someone’s identity, they are also universally used among state and federal government agencies. This allows for the highest levels of information-sharing among all relevant agencies – an element that is lacking when fingerprints are not used to verify identities.
Non-fingerprint or name-based checks, on the other hand, are limited and not easily shared among the appropriate authorities. These criminal background checks are performed on publicly-available databases and records from county courthouses, which are not linked to each other and typically do not go back past seven years. Name-based background checks present three fundamental problems. First, there is no way to positively identify a person (i.e. a fingerprint), increasing the likelihood of fraud. Second, because names, addresses and birthdays are not unique, the likelihood of false positives (a person linked in error with another’s record) and false negatives (someone getting cleared when they should not) are greatly increased. Finally, because the FBI database is not accessed, there is no true national search performed, making these searches incomplete, limited and inaccurate.
In the debate between fingerprint background checks and name-based checks, the facts are clear and the choice is obvious. As legislators in several states have already shown, safeguarding the public does not have to come at the cost of sharing economy services like ride-sharing. Every state should follow their lead and continue implementing decades-long policies that mandate the gold standard: fingerprint-based background checks.
Charles R. Carroll is the senior VP for Enrollment Services at MorphoTrust USA.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.