Uber pressured by California officials to implement fingerprint checks for drivers

August 24, 2015 - 

California officials have demanded ride-sharing firm Uber to start using law enforcement fingerprint checks in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco as a more thorough screening practice to ensure that its drivers do not have any recent records of violence or crime, according to a report by Government Technology.

The issue is only intensified by Los Angeles legislators considering a proposal to allow ride-hailing services full access to Los Angeles International Airport, and district attorneys in L.A. and San Francisco recently identifying 25 Uber drivers with convictions for various offenses including murder, assault and driving under the influence.

Uber officials have defended its screening practices, calling them as adequate as cab companies.

However, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey have filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Uber that claims its screening process can miss critical criminal databases or depend on other databases that are incomplete.

In a prepared statement, Gason said that while he supports technological innovation, it “does not give companies a license to mislead consumers about issues affecting their safety.”

Additionally, North Hollywood-area councilman Paul Krekorian is calling for new legislation that would make it mandatory for ride-hailing service drivers to undergo extensive FBI background checks, which would include biometric fingerprinting.

Bonin, one of City Hall’s most vocal advocates for Uber and Lyft, says public safety “seems to be where the taxi industry is trying to steer the discussion.”

The California Public Utilities Commission, which places similar regulations on Uber and other ride-hailing services as it does limousine companies, does not currently enforce a mandatory fingerprinting procedure for drivers.

Fingerprint checks are able to detect any applicants who are using a fake alias or lying about their criminal records. Los Angeles taxi drivers are currently fingerprint checked against federal criminal databases.

Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said that no background check is “100 percent foolproof,” as smudged fingerprints can often lead to inaccurate results when matched against the FBI’s criminal database.

The ride-hailing service also pointed out that the FBI’s criminal database contain biometric fingerprint data from suspects who were never convicted, which can lead to discrimination against minorities.

The full council is set to vote on the LAX proposal this week, while members can also formally ask state regulators to add a mandatory fingerprint requirement for ride-hailing drivers in California.

Last year, a bill proposed by state assemblyman Adrin Nazarian that would enforce mandatory fingerprint-based background checks eventually died in committee as a result of Uber’s extensive lobbying campaign against the bill.

“The fingerprint is the only unique feature of any human being that with 99.99 percent (certainty) can affirm the individual who the fingerprint belongs to,” Nazarian said. “Nothing else beats that.”

In December, Uber announced it would be conducting a “global review” of its safety measures with plans to introduce new safety initiatives in the new year, including investing in research and development on biometrics and voice verification to build custom tools for enhanced driver screening.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.