Unless you live in a cave, there is good chance that you have gone through fingerprint scanning. Fingerprint is scanned every time you put finger on the sensor of office attendance machine, your PC or your smartphone. The process of scanning is so instant that it feels like it never happened. Fingerprint recognition has basically originated from forensic science, where it was used to identify people with their fingerprints. In the early days, it was not so instant, not even automated. Processing fingerprints has also been an inevitable part in criminal bookings. Even now when fingerprint scanning has become a daily activity on your phone or office attendance machine, it is extensively used in criminal background check, maintaining criminal records, employee screening and many other background verification activities.
In this article, we will try to gain more insight into fingerprint based different background check activities and understand what makes fingerprint based background check more superior than other methods.
What is background check and why it is done?
To understand the different types of background check activities, first we need to understand what background check is and why it is done in the first place. In simple words, background check is the process of digging past criminal or financial records of an individual, so that her reliability, suitability or eligibility can be ensured. This suitability or eligibility can be regarding a job, an authority or for providing access to a certain area or information. Here is an example: getting a firearm usually requires law enforcement agencies to run a background check of the applicant. It she is found to be involved in crime or anti-social activities in the past, chances are she will not be allowed to get her irresponsible hands on a gun.So, background check or background investigation is the process of looking up records of criminal, financial and commercial history of an individual, to find her/his eligibility for an intent she/he has been considered for.
In civil applications, the process is background check may start with an application, while in criminal proceedings, it is proactively done by law enforcement agencies to find history of a criminal, so that her/his association with past crimes (resolved or unresolved) may be established.
Types of background check
As we discussed above, background checks may be performed for a varied numbers of reasons. The primary objective of all sorts of background check is to find any past record of subject’s association with any crime, financial fraud, anti-social or anti-national activities.
- Being processed as a criminal.
- Being hired for an employment or position that gives her/him enough access or authority that have possibility of misuse.
- Being given authority to own a controlled commodity (e.g. firearms), access to an area (e.g. crossing international borders) or information. For example, authority to keep firearms requires background check beforehand.
How fingerprints can be leveraged in different types of background checks and criminal records?
Though many jurisdictions have started maintaining criminal records and running background checks on the basis of fingerprints, it is yet to become a reality in many parts of the world. The following sub-sections discuss how fingerprint based background check can patch potential security loopholes in different types of background checks and what can go wrong with traditional demographic based background checks.
Criminal background checks
In criminal background checks, records of criminal history of a subject are looked up. Criminal background check can include verification of an individual against county, state and/or federal records, depending on the requirement and background check policy. Criminal background check may include past arrests, Court records (dockets, judgement, etc.), convictions of felonies and misdemeanors, sex offenses, warrants and/or records of any past imprisonment.
Criminal background check on the basis of demographic data of the subject can lead to errors that can get a wrong candidate through the process or award a firearms permit to a criminal, which may lead to further disruption of law and order. Fingerprint based criminal background check and verification of criminal records can be the solution as there is virtually no chance of error when searching criminal records on the basis of fingerprints. Looking up records on the basis of a unique number, name, age, date of birth, etc. can also lead to typing errors and can fetch inaccurate records. Records at source may be duplicated if maintained using any of such information. Fingerprint based criminal background check and maintenance of criminal records using fingerprints as unique key solves the problem at both the ends.
Employment screening or pre-employment screening is the term used for running employment specific background check on an employee before he can be hired. Employment screening involves verification of applicant’s claims about her education, past employment, awards or honors she has mentioned while applying for the position. It is also done to discover any criminal history, employer sanctions or/and workers compensation claims. Some employment positions that require high security or high level of trust may also push candidates through employment screening and background checks. Employment positions that give people some sort of authority or access to elderly, children, patients, disabled, etc. may also require potential employees to go thorough employment screening.
Fraud in the workplace is another reason why employers look to run a pre-employment screening on their potential employees. Workplace fraud costs businesses billions of dollars across the world and employment screening becomes a necessity in such a scenario. Younger applicants are found to be more likely to include fake, fictitious or exaggerated information in their CVs, which may or may not have documentary evidence. Evidentiary documents can also be manipulated to make information look true. Employment screening can involve verification of education, criminal history, social security number, character references, etc.
Scope of employment screening can vary depending on the type of job, employer and set policies. For example, a job that involves providing care to elderly will require more extensive verification than a sales job. One employer may focus on sexual offenses while other will specifically run a credit check. Like we discussed above, fingerprint based employment screening can make sure that a potentially unsafe employee cannot get through the loopholes present in traditional demographic based background check methods.
Security clearance screening
Security clearance is a status given to an individual after following a well-defined process thorough background check. The process of security clearance can greatly vary from one entity to another and may also depend on the level of access provided. In more sophisticated or high security facilities, there may be different levels of access and security clearance given for a certain level may not let an individual to access higher or different levels. In private organizations, process of security clearance is implemented to make sure that only authorized individuals have access to information or a certain area, so the information security can be ensured.
The process of security clearance can be further reinforced using fingerprint based process. An individual seeking security clearance can be asked to provide their fingerprints, which can be verified against local and national law enforcement agencies’ criminal records. For example, in the U.S. NACLC (National Agency Check with Local Record and Credit Checks) is a type of background check required in the United States for granting of security clearances.
Firearm purchase related background checks
Many jurisdictions around the world require an extensive background check and verification of criminal records against local and national criminal databases to allow firearm ownership. In the United States, anyone looking to purchase a gun from a federal firearms licensee has to go through a background check. This requirement is stated in Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, also known as Brady Law or Brady Bill.Despite the applicable jurisdiction in a country, anyone looking to own a gun has to go through background check wherever gun control is in effect. In some countries firearm buyers may also have to provide fingerprints for criminal background checks, while others may only need demographic data. Like in other types of background checks, fingerprint based background checks for firearms purchase can save from loopholes that my allow someone with criminal history to own a gun.
Some jurisdictions may require landlords to get their tenants verified against local or national criminal records. This may particularly be a requirement where tenants have been found involved in crimes. Regardless the status of mandatory background check, some landlords may want their tenants to go through background checks for the sake of security and confidence. They can also verify references provided by their potential tenants. Fingerprint based criminal background check offers equally efficient results as in other types of background checks.
Childcare background screening
To save children from potential harm, applicants or volunteers looking to engage in childcare services, are taken through extensive background checks. Verification requirements may vary from one jurisdiction to another, however, they generally involve verification against state and federal criminal records, records of child abuse and neglect, state and federal sex offender checks, etc.Preforming accurate background checks can be very crucial in childcare services, as they can particularly be prone to abuse crimes. Fingerprint based screening of potential childcare service providers can produce accurate results and visibility of potentially individuals with criminal intents.
Immigration background check
Background check has been a part of immigration process for quite a while but after the attacks of 9/11, countries around the world and particularly the U.S. have made them more rigorous. In the United States, USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) takes care of visa, immigration, naturalization and refugee services. Background check is an inevitable part for anyone crossing the U.S. borders and USCIS has already mandated fingerprint based background check for applicants. The agency’s web resources clearly state that it collects fingerprints and conducts “name check” from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and other inter-agency criminal background and security checks on all applicants for naturalization. USCIS’s actions are backed by the law as well.
What makes fingerprint background check superior?
Due to increasing security threats and people looking to exploit loopholes or to circumvent illegal activities, accurate background check has become a very crucial activity. Law enforcement and security agencies process background check requests and due to increasing demand, they are overloaded with background check applications. At many jurisdictions around the world, activity of background check is still on traditional mode, which makes it slow and prone loopholes that people may exploit to circumvent the process. For example, running background check with demographic information can produce faulty results at many levels. Maintenance of criminal records purely on demographic data can also lead to such errors.
Fingerprint based background check and criminal records can be the answer to all above and other shortcomings associated with the process. Collecting fingerprints have been a standard process during arrests and processing criminals, however, earlier they were mainly used for forensic purposes and not for the criminal record maintenance. Now with the availability of powerful computers and AFIS systems, it has become possible to maintain millions of criminal records effortlessly.These systems can take a fingerprint as a query and return match if it is already there in the database. All associated information including past criminal records are also fetched that enables law enforcement agencies to run a background check more efficiently.
With increasing numbers of crimes and terrorist activities, it has become very crucial to know about the background of people before they are allowed to access certain facility/information, perform an activity prone to misappropriation or allowed to own controlled commodities. Screening people before hiring them, letting them cross international borders or allowing them to purchase a firearms are some of the example where background check may be required.However, there may be many more scenarios where background check or screening may be required.
Fingerprint based background checks offers a far superior solution over traditional means of background checks. In traditional means of background check and criminal record verification, demographics of a subject are used for looking up criminal or financial records of a person, which can lead to errors or may return inappropriate records. However, with fingerprints based query, there is no possibility of such an error as fingerprints uniquely associate an identity to a subject, making it the best possible way to perform background checks.