Uber Should Keep Employing Drivers With Criminal Backgrounds

Uber can keep customers safe without fingerprinting all applicants or adopting excessively punitive policies toward people who committed crimes long ago.


Guerrilla Futures|Jason Tester / Flickr

Uber has come under public fire lately for perceived failure to adequately screen drivers. Los Angeles and San Francisco prosecutors recently amended a consumer protection lawsuit they brought against Uber last year, alleging Uber misled customers about the ride service's safety, including the stringency of its driver background checks. The amended civil complaint details the criminal histories of 25 California Uber drivers between the two cities whom prosecutors believe should have been screened out. Among those profiled were one driver convicted of "kidnapping for ransom with a firearm" in 1994, some individuals on the state sex-offender registry, and several convicted of driving under the influence or welfare fraud.

"According to the amended lawsuit complaint, one driver was convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles and spent 26 years in prison," the Los Angeles Times reports.

He gave a different name when he applied to drive for Uber, and a background report said he had no known aliases and no criminal history, the complaint said. The driver gave 1,168 rides over seven months, according to the prosecutors' court filing.

Note that nothing happened to suggest that this driver was unfit to safely transport Uber customers. The California prosecutors' concerns are not that Uber drivers with criminal backgrounds have been misbehaving, but merely that they are able to work as drivers at all. (We prefer our formerly-incarcerated to live in aimless poverty until we can lock them back up for parole violations…)

"Whether ride-hail drivers should be held to the same background-check standards as taxi drivers has been the subject of hours of testimony at Los Angeles City Hall," the Times notes. City officials think Uber should use LiveScan, the comprehensive background-checking service favored by prosecutors and taxi companies. But—as Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan notes in a blog post—LiveScan, which relies on fingerprinting, is likely to exclude many people unfairly.

… the FBI database and the state databases against which Live Scan fingerprints are matched include arrest records for people who were never charged let alone convicted.  This known issue often flags innocent people, unfairly discriminating against them and preventing them from earning a living. Live Scan also does not include convictions if fingerprints were not taken at the time of arrest.

A 2014 Wall Street Journal investigation found the FBI's records often fail to indicate whether those arrested were ever charged or had charges dropped, or where the arrest was ultimately found to be in error. … A 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that "1.8 million workers a year are subject to FBI background checks that contain faulty or incomplete information."

The issue of unfairly flagging an innocent person is a particular issue for minorities.

For example, the Black Organizing Project, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit, found that between 2006 and 2012 black young men made up almost 75% of all juvenile arrests–even though they made up less than 30% of the city's under-18 population.  Of those arrested, nearly 80% were not prosecuted, but would have records in the FBI database that would be returned in a Live Scan criminal background check, preventing them from earning a living.

"Although there are benefits of using biometric identification in a background check process … biometric background check processes may miss 7.5% of criminals with low quality fingerprints," Sullivan pointed out. 

In 2014 at least 600 people in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—all cities that require taxi drivers to go through Live Scan—who previously drove taxis failed our background check. These drivers were not given access to Uber's platform, but may continue transporting passengers by taxi. Their records included convictions for sex offenses or rape (19 potential drivers), DUIs (36 potential drivers), child endangerment or abuse (seven potential drivers), and assault or battery (51 potential drivers).

Sullivan also noted that Uber's background-check process is in compliance with California requirements, and that two of the sex offenders Uber "failed" to catch are not on the California Department of Justice's sex-offender list. But is such bureaucratic blame-passing beside the point? In an op-ed for The Hill this week, Columbia student and activist Nikita Mary Singareddy argued that we shouldn't be so focused on "whether or not Uber performed its obligatory due diligence" in checking drivers' background.

"Some are furious that the formerly incarcerated have driven thousands of unwitting users. Others believe (California prosecutors) are cherry-picking the few ex-offenders that went undetected," wrote Singareddy. "Yet, this parry and thrust between critics and defenders will never find a resolution. And for good reason—the media blitzkrieg has less to do with actual safety and more to do with our treatment of the formerly incarcerated."

While studies have shown post-prison employment to reduce recidivism, many former prisoners find it difficult to impossible to find legit work after their release. "We should hope that more companies institute fair screening for those with past convictions," writes Singareddy.

There are already so many collateral consequences for those with a criminal record, from the inability to rent an apartment to voting in an election. If we care about civil rights, we should look at these civil suits more holistically and instead applaud Uber–and companies like Walmart, Koch Industries, and Target–for committing to end hiring discrimination against returning citizens.

Helping those who've been imprisoned reacclimate to outside life is part of the current criminal justice reform movement, and this involves repealing and preventing government policies that limit their successful reintegration into the community. Obviously Uber has good reason to prevent certain sorts of recent offenders from working as drivers, but the company already has policies in place that do that. Occassionally people—like several of those flagged like by California prosecutors—engage in deception like signing up with fake IDs to get around these polices. But for the most part, Uber's policies work, without subjecting every applicant to fingerprinting, needlessly discriminating against all sorts of people without criminal backgrounds, or penalizing people who've been incarcerated for all eternity. 

"We understand that there are strongly held views about the rehabilitation of offenders," wrote Sullivan on Uber's blog. "But the California State Legislature decided—after a healthy debate—that seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves." 

NEXT: That's Garbage

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  1. Of those arrested, nearly 80% were not prosecuted, but would have records in the FBI database that would be returned in a Live Scan criminal background check, preventing them from earning a living.

    So, if you are never convicted of a crime, but were arrested once on some mere suspicion, you still have a criminal record?

    1. Yes. You don’t even have to have been arrested either. You could simply have been accused and investigated without your knowledge, and you’ve got a criminal record. Granted, Live Scan wouldn’t find that since it relies on fingerprints, but other background checks would. Even if it was before you turned eighteen (that line about records being sealed is a lie).

      1. Hil-Dawg should have a criminal record then. So the Presidency comes with looser requirements than a Taxi driver, ponder that upon the tree of woe.

        1. It’d be interesting if everyone filing to run for President had to qualify for TS, eh?

          1. I do enjoy watching Top Shot.

        2. Do I get the vulture snack tray?

    2. One good reason to go to court and have your record expunged if you’re not prosecuted. That may not be 100% effective, but it’s better than zero.

      1. Is that like paying to have your Ashley Madison account wiped.

        1. Yes, but higher priced. This requires a lawyer. Figure $1k. And no guarantees.

          Welcome to American Criminal Justice.

      2. That is just fucking absurd. I honestly (naively) thought you had to have actually been proven a criminal or at least pled to being one in court in order to have a criminal record. Because an arrest without conviction means absolutely squat. I really should have known better, but I guess I still have a little bit of denial as to how bad things have actually gotten.

        1. Because an arrest without conviction means absolutely squat.



  2. (We prefer our formerly-incarcerated to live in aimless poverty until we can lock them back up for parole violations…)

    That’s about it.

    1. Who’s this “we”? I say either execute them after the trial (or before the trial if the authorities are sure enough that they’re guilty), or, as a second-best option, ship them all to a designated Outlaw Town.

      1. Who’s this “we”?

        The government.

  3. What would be a disqualifying history? Does a driver actually have to attempt to rob or murder a customer efore being rejected?

    It should be Uber’s choice, but, maybe, employing convicted murderers as drivers may be counterproductive to marketing to a customer base.

    1. employing convicted murderers as drivers

      Have they done that? the article suggests otherwise.

      1. Aside from the guy who served 26 years for 2nd degree murder?

    2. I’ve known convicted murderers who would make great taxi drivers. What’s the problem? Either you’ve done your stint in prison, and paid off your “debt to society”, or you haven’t and should still be locked up.

      When the hell did we start deciding that there should be myriad occupations for which they would forever be disqualified?

      I can tell you when: since the Internet.

      I argue that it is only because of technology, i.e. that we are ABLE to now Google everyone to death, that we have decided that we MUST do so and continue making tsk, tsking noises from now until they die about what we think they must not be allowed to do.

      1. Customers may avpid ypur service if they know they may be alone in a car wiyh a convicted murderer?

      2. “…that there should be myriad occupations… ”

        Proper grammatical use of the word “myriad” is always appreciated.

      3. The modern version of the Roman Colosseum with n-millions voting thumbs-up or down on every action, statement, activity.

  4. “biometric background check processes may miss 7.5% of criminals with low quality fingerprints,” Sullivan pointed out.

    Actually, that’s 7.53%.

  5. “Whether ride-hail drivers should be held to the same background-check standards as taxi drivers has been the subject of hours of testimony at Los Angeles City Hall.”

    Of course, it goes without saying that Los Angles City Councilcreatures should NOT be held to the same background-check standards as taxi drivers.




      /wrong meme

      1. There is – it’s called “Up With People”.

    2. “ANCOR” WAT?

        1. …so you’ve been to Cambodia….

          *notes Swiss as suspected Viet Cong*

          1. Khmer Rouge, if you please…wait, I mean…

            *runs from room*

        2. That deserves a bit more than a narrow gaze, I think.

          Well done, Rich.

          1. It’s rare for one of you guys to make me giggle out loud, but Rich succeeded…
            Also note the malapropism in the headline–it probably should be ‘punitive’, not ‘putative’. Phonologically quite similar, of course, are most malapropisms. I wonder if these guys write their own headlines…

            1. I noticed that as well. Putative = you might be the guy, we’re not sure. Punitive = intended as punishment.

              1. Fixed! Thank you. And for the most part, yes, we do. (Though I should probably lie right now and blame that putative business on someone else…)




      1. TRUMP

        Why are you bleeding out of your eyes, or out of your….whatever….?



  7. Uber is a private company and in a free country would be able to hire who it wants. It is not required to become part of the governments criminal rehabilitation system.

    Does Reason Magazine conduct background checks of its employees?

    1. Obviously not, or they’d have never hired that shady Too Chilly fellow, what with his family history of gangsterism and whatnot.

      Thank goodness for them that problem took care of itself….

    2. Does Reason Magazine conduct background checks of its employees?

      No, but DoJ conducts background checks of the H&R commentariat.

      1. Participating in the commentariat is part of your background check, listed between sex offenses and felonies.

    3. Uber is a private company and in a free country would be able to hire who it wants. It is not required to become part of the governments criminal rehabilitation system.

      Good thing nobody suggested it be required to.

  8. OT: Socialism’s triumphant march continues!!!!!


    1. Whatevs. We all know those are just CIA agents. All is well. Jews are monkeys. Read your textbooks, children.

      1. “I am very sorry, teacher, we ate them for dinner yesterday!”

    2. Subscribe?? GFY wsj.

  9. You missed a golden opportunity for skair quotes, ENB.

    Uber Should Keep Employing Drivers With “Criminal” Backgrounds

    1. You “missed” a golden “opportunity” for “skair” quotes, “ENB”.

    2. “Should”

  10. Look, I saw Ant Man and if you don’t let criminals work at Baskin Robbins they become super heroes, so the system works. I think we need more super soldiers and less ice cream shovelers! Make America Great again by making sure people can’t find jobs!

  11. What’s next, will Reason come out in support of the EU right to be forgotten law?

    1. Maybe. What is next for you? Banning anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime from working anywhere? If not was is so special about uber?

      1. No, Its up to Uber to decide. Just like in this country you should be able to decide who works for you.

        I am objecting to the idea that a persons past is not important and should be ignored

        1. Is there any limits to that? How about ten years? If someone goes ten years without another conviction clear their record. Give people a reason to do better.

          1. John, OT:

            Guess what brilliant member of the commentariat asserted yesterday that you, Papaya SF and me should be the last people to be talking about lucidity?

            1. Cytoxic or Frank. The irony burns.

              1. Cytoxic it is.

                You know why else the irony burns? Not even Joe from Lowell or Tony or shrike would ever say something like that. For that matter, the old Tulpa wouldn’t either.

  12. TYPO: “punitive” not “putative” in sub-heading.

  13. What Do the people who think uber should not hire people with criminal backgrounds think those people should do? Just die? Live on the street and beg?

    We really are a nasty and horrible society.

    1. Why, go to free community college, of course.

      1. That’s why we invented “community organizers.”

    2. Yes, you can never really pay your debt to society, you must forever suffer and be unemployable once you have been subjected to the tender mercies of the State, even if your ‘crime’ didn’t actually have any victims.

      1. They should work for you since you don’t seem to care about their history.

      2. God I hate that “debt to society” bullshit. If I commit a crime, the only debt I owe is to the person or people I directly affected through my crime.

        Aunt Mable down the street wasn’t affected at all by what I did and therefore I owe her no debt.

        There’s no “justice” in our criminal justice system since once someone commits a crime, there’s no restitution to the victim. You’d have to drag your offender to civil court, even though they’ve already been found guilty in criminal court.

        We just throw em in jail, and say “hey look, see they’re paying their debt to you and ‘society’, don’t you feel great?”

        Also after you supposedly serve your debt, shouldn’t you be, ya know forgiven or something and start back at square 1?

        1. Aunt Mable down the street wasn’t affected at all by what I did and therefore I owe her no debt.

          Aunt Mable’s taxes paid to clean up your shenanigans.

          1. Just goes to show that we are too entwined.

            If I do something that has no affect on your life whatsoever, you should not be able to claim it does because you paid 5 bucks to the local PD in taxes.

        2. so if she forgives you, you should not go to jail? Or if she wants you dead, you should be killed?

          1. No, I said after I pay my debt.

            Also, why can’t you work something out with your victim. If I steal something from you, why can’t we come to an arrangement.

            Return of the item and some labor oughta do it. No need for years behind bars, courts, records, etc.

          2. So now we know who John is. I declare you 24601! I’m going to tell on you to Jalvert!

          3. Also, yes, if your victim decides not to press charges and let bygones be bygones, then you should absolutely not go to jail. Old man Rivers down the street doesn’t get a say in the matter and neither does Nervous Soccer Mom Nancy that is scared of her own shadow.

            1. Only victims (or their guardians) should be able to prosecute, and the only redress should be restitution; which brings up the question of enforcement. If jail is how you punish criminals who won’t pay their restitution, who pays for the jail time?

              I suggest instead that you can’t file charges against someone for less than whatever restitution you owe. The real enforcement value of this is that anybody, including your victims, can steal from you and you have no legal recourse. Your boss could withhold pay. It thus behooves you to pay off that restitution as soon as possible. If you can’t borrow from friends and family, then it comes down to whether you have anything worth stealing. If not, no sweat, remain a friendless bum. But if you have property you would like to keep, then pawn it or use it as collateral for a bank loan.

              Most victims would hire somebody to do the stealing, and add the cost of recovery to the restitution.

            2. Invite me in so at least I can drink some blood that comes from someone intelligent. Liberal blood is putrid and filled with hate.

              1. That was to foghorn, not you scarecrow. Cause you suck at repairing scarecrows.

    3. We really are a nasty and horrible society

      Well, really just the assholes that govern us, and the people that vote for them and support them – principally the progtards.

      1. It’s everybody. the proggies are just another branch of people that want power and want to force everyone to live how they see the world. Everybody else does the same shit.

        Demonize opponent, make wild promises, claim divine right, grab power, force everyone to live by your rules.

        Same yesterday, same today, same tomorrow. Forever.

      2. Progtards love to boast how they are tough on crime.

      3. Except it’s usually conservatives who demand ‘tough on crime’ legislation and morality.

    4. Wash dishes.

    5. I bet if law and order types were honest, they would be for summary execution as soon as the guilty verdict is read for ALL “crimes”.

      1. If law and order types were honest, they would say trials are a waste of time and money. Cops don’t arrest innocent people. They arrest bad guys. No need for a trial verdict. If the cops say you did it, then your life is forfeit.

        1. I will award you the debate point.

    6. Maybe a company whose business is to have a certain class of employee interact with customers unsupervised may not want a person with a history of violent or property crimes doing that particular job?

  14. Goddamnit… Reporter and photographer killed in shooting in Roanoke, VA. Some report that there was a third victim. The shooting began during a live broadcast. Might be disturbing to watch.

    1. Fucking horrific.

    2. Yea, at first I thought she got away, because she didn’t sound like she had been hit. I was also hoping that she maybe got around a corner or something, but sadly, she’s dead.

      The cameraman and the older lady were fucked right from the jump though.

      1. *she, being the blonde reporter.

  15. Running afoul of the system is a life sentence which is a national travesty. The supreme lack of empathy and ethics in this illustrates the inhumane nature of the American legal system and the vacuum of benevolence in society.

    No amount of anti-crime justification can alter the reality that laws have become excessive and onerous trapping far too many within its jagged clutches alongside the despair-ridden thoroughfares of men and women desperate to negate a past sin and forge an improved but impossible life among the nit-pickers, sticklers, and anal-compulsive squares and clovers who cluck their tongues and hide eyes behind their white-washed rationality that rejects empathy while embracing macabre solace in the infinite lashes brutally scourging the law-breaker and mistaken.

    Without Libertarians and the dedicated activist who would ever care for humanity?

    1. Awesome Agile!

    2. Nicely stated, AC, though part of me was confused at first that I didn’t need to be in prose-reading mode.

    3. Or just don’t be a deadbeat criminal in the first place, you dumbass dopehead. They don’t deserve forgiveness, there really is no going back. Your half-baked, emotionalistic nonsense doesn’t change this.

      1. Depends on how you define criminal. If you define it to simply means someone who violated legislation handed down by god-like legislators, then you’re a dumbass slaver. If you define criminal to mean someone who has harmed the life, liberty or property of another person, then one doesn’t have to be a criminal to have their life ruined by the “justice” system. Not only that, but you don’t have to be convicted or even charged to have a record. Merely being suspected of committing a crime can cause some kinds of background checks to fail. Even if it happened before you turned eighteen. I know from personal experience.

        1. …this

      2. You mean like the guy who committed felony release of balloons?

  16. While I’m not a particular fan of government telling private parties how far they can check each other out, some of the following rules would prevent Uber from either discovering or using certain arrests and/or convictions:

    1.The so-called “Ban the Box” law in the California Labor Code says an employer cannot ask about or use any of the following in employment decisions:
    Any arrest or detention that did not result in a conviction.
    Any arrest for which pretrial diversion has been completed.
    Criminal records that have been sealed or dismissed.
    (Cal Labor Code 432.7)

    2. There is a 2 year limit on the use of marijuana convictions. (Cal. Labor Code 432.8)

    3. Generally, a company which does credit checks can’t report convictions that are more than 7 years old. See California Civil Code, Section 1786.18. Please note that the individual must have gotten out of prison more than 7 years ago. That being said, apparently if a company just offers criminal background screening, this 7 year limit probably does not apply.

    1. However, the lawsuit actually doesn’t address the criteria Uber is lawfully obligated to use. The legal question in the law suit is whether the statement in advertising that Uber uses an “industry-leading background check process” is false and misleading.

      As a result, the issues we should be discussing from a libertarian perspective are far more complex than the article depicts, unfortunately. They would include:
      a. What are the appropriate restrictions (if any) on criminal and credit checks in employment decisions? In other words, when do laws prohibiting discrimination based on prior criminal conduct make sense in order to support the rehabilitation of those folks who have served their time? (Right of association v. state interest in successful rehabilitation)
      b. To what extent is a statement like “industry-leading” with respect to a background check mere puffery or should it imply that Uber had been checking their people’s fingerprints?
      c. If the fingerprints result in a significant portion of false positives, should there be a cause of action by the individual wrongly denied against the information provider or the potential employer? (If A spreads false information about B and that causes B economic harm, B normally has a cause of action against A – for slander/libel/tortious interference with contract/negligence/etc., but some states have laws that protect services providing information on background checks.)

  17. So since there are two people in the car/taxi, shouldn’t we have detailed government background checks for both of them? No rides until you undergo fingerprinting!!

  18. Uber has come under public fire lately…

    “Public?” Or taxi companies?

    San Antonio is considering okaying Uber. There are ads running on TV claiming an Uber driver committed rape, and asking viewers to protest to the city council.

    Anybody who can’t guess who is funding them?

  19. Right, where else are libertarians with drug convictions supposed to work?

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