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State to weigh possible fingerprint criminal checks for Uber, Lyft drivers

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(Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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State regulators kicked off “phase three” for creating new regulations for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hail companies in California this month.

The focus of Phase III of the California Public Utilities Commission’s ride-hail proceedings are whether or not California should require fingerprints and criminal background checks for drivers.

That question may be resolved by late 2018, CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph wrote in a state filing this month.

Right now, Uber and Lyft use third-party criminal background checks to process their drivers, which are based on Social Security numbers and publicly available information. The ride-hail giants wrote in previous state filings that the third-party checks strike a balance between preserving public safety, affordability and quickness.

But the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Francisco International Airport and other statewide entities argued in counter-filings that Uber’s and Lyft’s criminal checks are easily fooled by simple tricks, like using a seldom-used middle name.

The criminal background check Uber used, San Francisco officials argued in previous filings, allowed approved drivers with histories of murder, sex offenses, kidnapping, assault, robbery, burglary, fraud, identity theft, reckless driving and driving under the influence.

The process for crafting the regulations launched in April with the commission asking various government bodies and private entities a multitude of legal questions, including, “Does subjecting all [ride-hail] drivers to a biometric background check adversely affect the chances of persons of different races or ethnicities to pass the background checking process?”

That has long been the assertion of Uber, who asserted in multiple legal filings with the state that more strict requirements for criminal background checks would disenfranchise minorities, who are in turn allegedly disenfranchised by the criminal justice system.

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