The FBI has begun the construction of a nationwide watchlist for employers. With a platform called Rap Back–”Rap” stands for Record of Arrest and Prosecution while Back is short for background–employers will soon be able to receive real-time notifications of their employees’ criminal status. Instead of conducting a one-time background check in the initial recruitment stage, employees will now be able to consistently check on the criminal activities of employees.
For FBI Director James Comey, one major limitation of the current background check methods utilized by employers in the United States is that it only covers the criminal past of employees while completely disregarding the possibility of employees engaging in criminal activities in the future. Such limitation becomes a bigger issue if employers are recruiting individuals fresh from colleges or universities, as the small gap between the age of minority and recruitment is often not enough for detailed evaluation.
Companies, organizations and states that apply to be partners of the Rap Back program will input the data of individuals within their communities into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database, which is considered to be the largest database of biometric data in the world.
Over the past few months, various organizations including Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport and Boston Logan International Airport have announced their participation in the Rap Back program, providing employee biometric data to the FBI. Once the fingerprint scans of employees amongst other forms of biometric data are passed along to the FBI, they are stored and retained within the NGI database indefinitely, even post-mortem. The controversial aspect of this program is that employees have no authority over the submission of their biometric data to the FBI and it is solely the decision of the FBI to retain or delete biometric data of individuals.
Jeramie Scott, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center expressed his concerns over the fact that there exists no laws or regulations that prohibit the usage of employee biometric data for other purposes. In other words, even if the FBI utilizes personal data of employees and members of the Rap Back program for other purposes apart from providing criminal activity notification to employers, they will not be punished by law.
Another skeptic of the Rap Back program Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, revealed that the outdated and inaccurate database of NGI is leading to loss of jobs for future employees.
In 2009, a Maryland woman lost a job due to an error in the criminal database of the FBI. The decision of the employer to turn down the application of Eschol Amelia Studnitz wasn’t overturned, as the spot was filled by another candidate.
Lynch believes such cases will continue to emerge in the near future due to the weak and shallow infrastructure of the FBI. In addition, the NGI database is shared with multiple parties such as government and law enforcement agencies, which will highly likely lead to data manipulation and incorrect inputs.
The FBI has a poor record of securing, storing and maintaining sensitive personal and financial information of US citizens. According to a report released by the National Employment Law Project in 2013, more than 50% of records of the FBI are inaccurate as changes made by various agencies failed to be reflected on the main NGI database.
“Often this is because states fail to update their own records, and the FBI does not proactively verify the accuracy of information coming from the states. This has a much greater impact on communities of color because all criminal history systems include a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Latinos, and immigrants,” said Lynch.
While it can be argued that the existence of the Rap Back program could lead to a fewer recruitment of employees with criminal activities, cases of faulty background checks and inaccurate criminal investigation will most likely increase rapidly in the upcoming years.