New-generation taxi services Uber and Lyft are once again fighting efforts to mandate biometric background checks for their drivers. This time, the fighting is playing out in New Jersey, where two bills are currently being debated at the Legislature, one that would let the attorney general decide on mandatory fingerprint-based background checks, and another that would put the question to state police.
Uber and Lyft are fighting back by calling the FBI’s fingerprint databases into question. The companies’ counsel point to a 2014 study indicating that in many cases biometric records taken at the time of arrest didn’t offer follow-up information on convictions or acquittals, arguing that such background checks could impact individuals who have never been convicted of a crime, and would likely affect minority groups disproportionately. They also argue that too many FBI records are compromised by smudges and imperfections, and that their standards, based on intensive biographical background checks, are in fact superior to those imposed on traditional taxi and limousine services.
On the other hand, the IBIA and national industry groups representing traditional taxi services are calling for the same biometric checks to be imposed on Uber and Lyft drivers as those imposed on traditional taxi and limo drivers, with the Taxi, Limousine and Paratransit Association pointing out that in San Francisco and Los Angeles Uber and Lyft have had to settle lawsuits over the hiring of individuals who turned out to have criminal histories.
As it did when similar issues were debated in Austin, Texas, Uber has said that it will halt its operations in New Jersey if biometric background checks are mandated. Meanwhile, authorities in Massachusetts are currently debating the creation of a government agency that would issue permits to Uber and Lyft drivers, and could also require background checks, so a whole new front in this ongoing fight could soon open up.
July 5, 2016 – by Alex Perala