The owners of Uber, along with many prominent voices, are fighting a call to require potential drivers to submit to fingerprint-based background checks, saying doing so would discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics seeking jobs.
"Black people are disproportionately targeted and arrested, so they’re fingerprinted at a higher level, " Brandi Collins, media justice director at civil rights group ColorOfChange, told The Hill
. "Because of the fact that the arrest records don’t ever specify whether the person arrested was found guilty [or] innocent or whether those charges were dropped, once the fingerprints are filed they just become this damning piece of evidence that’s often used in a number of ways."
Requirements for licensing Uber drivers vary by location, but according to a 2015 description from California, potential employees are screened through a process that uses names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and driver and vehicle registration records.
However, critics and the taxi industry, which has been hit hard by the transportation service, say that fingerprint records should also be checked through an FBI database, and claim that name-based background checks alone are not enough to properly screen drivers.
Uber and other critics, though, say the database is flawed because the records don't often contain information on criminal cases' final outcomes and can be inaccurate.
Several powerful voices support Uber's side, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, who wrote in letters to local officials in Atlanta, New Jersey, and Chicago that requiring the fingerprint background checks for purposes not involving law enforcement could "have a discriminatory impact on communities of color."
With Uber, passengers connect with drivers through a smartphone app for rides. The drivers work for Uber as independent contractors, and use their own vehicles rather than company-owned cars.
Uber, rival company Lyft and other privacy and civil rights groups also complain that the FBI restricts access to records kept in the database, writing in joint letter to the Department of Justice that "every year, thousands of people undergoing fingerprint-based background checks lose work due to FBI records that are inaccurate or out of date."
"The FBI database has a clearly-defined purpose: to aid law enforcement during Investigations," said Holder. "It was not designed to be used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for a work opportunity."
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said that he generally opposes fingerprint background checks for employment purposes, and when it comes to Uber, "this is a second job for many good men and women, and that would be an insult to a part-time driver."
Uber also says it double checks records turned up through a company called Checkr, which does its name-based background checks in almost all its markets, with a search of courthouse records to ensure the most up-to-date records are checked.
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