Privacy SOS

Stop requiring people to send their fingerprints to the FBI just to apply for a job

A few years back, I presented ACLU testimony before the Boston City Council, urging city officials to reject a proposal to require certain civil license applicants to send their fingerprints to the FBI for criminal background checks as a condition of employment. In recent decades, the practice of fingerprinting potential employees has become all too common, despite the fact that its value as a security measure is debatable at best. 

Now, police officials in Massachusetts are urging state legislators to require companies like Uber and Lyft to fingerprint potential drivers when they apply for jobs. That’s a terrible idea. As NAACP Boston president Michael Curry and I told a Boston Globe reporter, requiring people to submit their fingerprints to the FBI in order to get a job will hurt the very people who are suffering from the worst unemployment rates, namely Black and brown people. 

Police officials submit fingerprints to the FBI when they arrest people. But arrests are not convictions, and too often the FBI’s database doesn’t reflect the outcome of those arrests. Furthermore, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) FBI database against which fingerprints are checked (and to which fingerprints are added) is riddled with errors, where the data isn’t incomplete or obsolete. You don’t have to do much internet searching to find stories about people who have been wrongfully denied employment or lost their jobs because of bad data. If you think that’s not a big deal, imagine if you were fired  because of an error in a government database. Even one mistake is too many.

People shouldn’t be required to submit to a federal biometrics dragnet just to get a job. Massachusetts legislators should refrain from making this problem worse, and reject calls to require fingerprinting of potential Uber and Lyft drivers. Then they should examine existing requirements to fingerprint job applicants in certain professions, like teachers, and undo them. It’s not fair to force people seeking above the board, taxpaying employment to hand over their sensitive biometric data to a federal agency just to get a paycheck, and we should stop doing it. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.