Fingerprint background checks causing concern in Oklahoma

September 23, 2015 - 

Fingerprint background checks performed by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation at the request of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services have often failed to uncover the criminal histories of individuals seeking employment, according to a report by The Oklahoman.

The OSBI and national crime databases failed to detect criminal histories on 117 separate cases throughout 2014 that the human services agency discovered through other means, according to Veronica Franks-Taylor, DHS’ administrator of background investigations.

DHS uses the fingerprint background data to prohibit or restrict individuals with certain criminal backgrounds from obtaining certain jobs or engaging in specific activities.

The agency uncovered the failed attempts in a more comprehensive background investigation of childcare workers and other employees who work with vulnerable children and adults, Franks-Taylor said.

“Last year, Child Care Services processed 26,195 requests and 948 of those were restricted or prohibited individuals,” said Franks-Taylor, adding that 117 of the individuals with criminal histories had committed crimes that did not appear in the OSBI and national fingerprint background checks.

The unreliability of fingerprint background checks in pulling up criminal histories was one of many complaints submitted at last week’s Legislative interim study, which is investigating complaints about fingerprinting laws and procedures in Oklahoma.

Other complaints address the additional fingerprint background checks requirement for teachers seeking employment at the Integris Health child care facilities, nurses working in both a DHS licensed facility and home health or hospice, and individuals seeking to obtain professional licenses or handgun permits.

The majority of out-of-state nurses rely on outdated technology that uses ink and cards to submit their fingerprints, which are converted to digital prints by a state-approved contractor and then forwarded to the OSBI, said Kim Glazier, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Nursing.

These fingerprint checks typically have an OSBI rejection rate of almost 33 percent, and 679 of the 2076 card scans that were submitted during the first eight months of 2015 were rejected, Glazier said.

On a broader scale, the OSBI saw an 11 percent overall rejection rate for the 10-highest volume submitting agencies, rejecting 8,781 of the 78,275 sets of fingerprints submitted for background checks.

“Often times, the same individual will be rejected more than once, so the number of people whose fingerprints are rejected would be less than the rejection rate reported above,” OSBI officials said in response to an Open Records Act request.

The OSBI also contacted a couple other states and discovered that they had a rejection rate of 9 percent, McKinney said.

He added that fingerprints submitted for handgun permits experienced a 12 percent rejection rate.

McKinney said that it is more difficult to obtain good fingerprints from some people more than others, while fingerprints taken from older people tend to be more worn down than fingerprints from young people.

Meanwhile, the OSBI was recently ranked the best in the country for having the lowest FBI rejection rate on fingerprints submitted for background checks (1.16 percent), OSBI officials said.

The skill level of the people taking the fingerprints and the quality of the technology in the automated fingerprint identification system that is used can make a difference in rejection rates, McKinney said.

The rejection rate for electronic fingerprints submitted by DHS experienced a 17 percent decrease to less than 3 percent after DHS switched to a new digital scanning machine vendor, said Franks-Taylor.

The outdated fingerprint identification system that the OSBI is currently using to evaluate fingerprints is also believed to be partly responsible for the repeated rejections.

The OSBI is planning to update the system, and McKinney said she hopes the updated system will be able to reduce the rejection rate to about 2 percent.

State Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell said the OSBI and state agencies have made progress by getting rid of backlogs in fingerprint processing since he began studying fingerprinting issues, but admitted that there is still more work to be done.

“It’s more complicated than I originally expected because you’ve got the federal government involved and Lord knows how ridiculous that process can get,” said Russ. “These federal agencies have become so arrogant and so over-bloated and so perceptively powerful that it’s just unbelievable what they expect individual states and state agencies to do to meet their standards.”

The OSBI typically respond to fingerprints that are electronically submitted within 24 hours–just a fraction of the 10 to 14 days it takes the agency to complete and respond to manual card fingerprints, agency officials said.

Previously reported, NEXT Biometrics Group ASA announced a study by University Carlos III of Madrid proves that fingerprint sensor accuracy directly correlates to the size of sensors used in smartphones, PCs and other devices.

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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.