Uber has begun fighting in several states to oppose new proposed fingerprinting requirements for its drivers. Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, among others have already passed stricter fingerprinting laws for school volunteers.
Maryland, on the other hand, has taken that a step further by passing a law last year requiring ride-sharing drivers, such as those that work for Uber, to be fingerprinted before they can start working for the company. Various municipalities in other states have also passed similar requirements at the city level.
A series of new laws
These new laws seek to reduce the incidence of crime among ride-sharing drivers. Some unfortunate incidents have already happened as a result of questionable Uber driver vetting, and a recent case in San Antonio involving an Uber driver allegedly committing an act of violence against a passenger has brought the issue back into the spotlight.
Fingerprint background checks are already mandatory for many taxi drivers, and these background checks would simply bring Uber up to the same safety standards. It seems like a no-brainer then that the company would be on board with these checks.
Uber, however, disagrees. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick said that their opposition to these fingerprinting laws are more a means to provide an opportunity for people who have been unfairly judged by the criminal justice system. They claim that giving those with an arrest record a chance to work is important to them as a company.
They also claim that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database, the one that would be used for these checks, is biased. They cite the fact that only half its arrest records include the final case disposition. Uber assumes that these checks would also be unfair to minority applicants.
A few exceptions
It is important to note, however, that the proposed legislation in many areas, such as Austin, only disqualifies those who have committed certain types of criminal offenses. Among these offenses are violent crime, DUI, prostitution, drug dealing, fraud, reckless driving, arson, and theft.
Two of these being driving-related offenses makes it a no-brainer. Certain non-violent crimes are also excluded from this list, notably drug use and many misdemeanors. This means that some rehabilitated criminals could still drive for Uber, provided they haven’t committed one of the crimes listed above.
In Maryland, Transdev on Demand VP Dwight Kines, who oversees Checker and Yellow Cab in Baltimore, has stated that fingerprint background checks haven’t had an effect on the diversity of their drivers at all. “It sure hasn’t kept us from hiring minorities at all,” he said.
Uber is taking this fight seriously, even threatening to leave some areas that have imposed mandatory fingerprinting. Critics claim that biometrics are necessary as a form of identification even if you take the criminal background check angle out of it. Anyone can use an assumed identity, but biometrics are infallible, they claim.
Fingerprint background checks really work
In Austin, fingerprint background checks flagged 86 people and prevented them from becoming drivers for ride-hailing services just in the month of August last year when the laws went into effect. These laws caused the company to actually follow through on threats to close their operations in the city last year. The other popular ride-sharing provider Lyft followed suit.
While there is no real way to confirm if Uber’s own background checks would have caught these individuals, Austin lawmakers would argue that these background checks are a necessary additional level of security just to increase the safety standards for these services.
Uber’s current background checks are issued by Checkr and Sterling Backcheck and test for criminal record, driving history, and age. While these overlap with the fingerprint check criteria, again the critics will argue that assumed identities are a concern, and you can’t fake biometrics.
This story is still developing in many states and municipalities, and it is unclear at this point whether Uber’s threats will cause any of these legislatures to bend their knee. It is unlikely though, if only because Uber leaving these cities would make taxi drivers ecstatic. And they’re willing to be checked.
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