According to a new amended complaint by the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Uber's background-check method is inferior to that of regular taxi companies, and it failed to catch the criminal records of 25 of their recently active drivers. The story has made national headlines, including in the New York Times, as the company with a $50 billion valuation comes under increasing scrutiny by governments, and the public at large.
SF District Attorney George Gascón said in a hastily called news conference late Wednesday, "We are learning increasingly that a lot of the information that Uber has been presenting the consumer has been false and misleading." Uber calls its background check "industry leading," however Gascón and Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey argue that LiveScan, which is the system used by the taxi industry, is more thorough.
The 25 former criminals uncovered but not identified in the complaint were found after they were cited at airports in LA and SF and the original lawsuits filed in December against both Uber and Lyft also noted the illegality of their operation at airports, though that complaint has since been resolved last fall. Among them, according to the amended complaint, are a driver convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles in 1982 who served 26 years in prison, another "convicted of felony sexual exploitation of children in Wyoming in 2005, and another of 'felony kidnapping for ransom with a firearm' in 1994."
As Gascón points out, Uber's background checks only go back seven years, and will therefore miss criminals who were paroled yesterday for significant crimes that may have occurred just eight years ago. (Though the Chronicle says that some of those 25 drivers identified have actually had legal problems, like parole violations, that did occur in the last seven years which were missed also.)
Lyft appears to be exempt from this current scrutiny after they settled with the DAs for $500,000 over similar allegations.
Uber defends itself in a statement saying, "The reality is that [no background check system] is 100 percent foolproof" something that Joe Sullivan, their Chief Security Officer, argued in a July 15 blog post. They repeat the argument now pointing out the flaws in LiveScan, which the DA's say they should be using, saying that their checks found crimes and violations among 600 applicants in SF, LA, and San Diego who all said they were employed as livery or taxi drivers, and had therefore passed state checks. "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)."
So if neither "industry standard" background check system is thorough enough, are we really taking our lives in our hands every time we hail any type of cab or car service?
Uber adds that they're on the side of state legislators who, after a "healthy debate" concluded that the law should be more lenient in allowing ex-convicts to re-enter the workforce and prove they're rehabilitated, and "seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves."
While that sounds good in theory, the idea of a convicted rapist or even domestic violence offender who was convicted a decade ago driving you home late at night and knowing where you live might make you think twice about using any kind of cab, am I right?
Previously: SF, LA District Attorneys Suing Uber