There is a good deal of (perhaps reasonable) concern these days about the upswing in electronic biometric data collection and its uses with respect to our private lives potentially becoming not-so-private anymore. In some contexts, however, the technology is still a necessity and not likely to disappear any time soon (if anything, it’s more likely to keep moving forward in increasingly unsettling ways).

Fingerprint collection is one such technology. Fingerprinting is commonly required by law for the purpose of checking someone’s criminal history in certain situations, such as pre-employment or licensing for individuals with access to vulnerable populations or sensitive information. Whether you are working in the healthcare or financial industries or you are a Department of Defense contractor needing clearance, your employees may have to undergo this process before they are considered fit to work and finding someone to provide those fingerprinting services is not as straightforward as it used to be. The practice of fingerprint-based background checks will only continue to gain popularity as technological advances lead to easier collection and submission, and plenty of companies are stepping up to get a piece of the action. Simultaneously, more and more law enforcement facilities are doing away with the fingerprinting services they offer to the public, so the days of simply heading down to your local PD or sheriff’s department are coming to an end in many states.

Turning to private third-party vendors is the growing trend, but the world of fingerprint processing can be more complex than many expect. Whether or not the FBI is surreptitiously collecting and hoarding all of our prints NSA-style as some might fear, they are still going to require a fresh set to be submitted for any record check and doing a little homework before you have your employees get printed can save not only time and money, but a good deal of frustration.

Know Your Requirements

The most important thing you can do before you begin is get a solid understanding of what you need. While the prints themselves generally stay the same and your criminal record (or lack thereof) may not be likely to change too often, the reason you need the prints can make all the difference in terms of processing as well as price. It should also not be a surprise that there is usually too much red tape involved for government agencies to share your prints or background check results amongst one another, so do not fall into the trap of thinking that being printed for one requirement will absolve you from having to do it again later for something else.

Below are some of the key questions you should be able to answer about your fingerprinting needs:

  • Why is fingerprinting required? Believe it or not, the government does have rules in place concerning justifiable reasons for requesting fingerprint-based background checks. You cannot typically demand your employees to have this done on a whim. You may be able to conduct other types of background screening simply with employee permission, but the FBI require permissible purposes unless the applicant is requesting the information for themselves and merely handing their results over to you (at which point you open yourself up to the possibility of tampering).
  • Who is requiring the fingerprinting to be done? This is typically some state or national government agency. It is not enough for an applicant to say their employer told them to do it. If you know the answer to this one, you can contact the agency or look at their website to gather other pertinent requirements.
  • How do the prints need to be processed? The agency in question may have requirements about both the method of fingerprint collection (electronic vs. ink) and the submission (electronic vs. mail). Live scan is the term for electronic fingerprint collection, and it is generally the preferred method to produce higher quality fingerprint images. Many entities are also making the switch to electronic submission, which is more complicated than dropping fingerprint cards in the mail, but it can speed up the process exponentially.
  • Do you know your ORI number? This may not always be necessary, but knowing the ORI (Originating Identifier) or its equivalent and any other relevant numbers required for fingerprint transmission can really help you get straight to the heart of your needs when talking to a potential vendor. It will also ensure that your fingerprints get to the right place.

Other useful information to gather includes timelines, whether any other paperwork or a photo needs to be included with the submission, and how (and to whom) background check results are returned. You will also want to confirm what the base fees are that go to the state and/or FBI for the checks they run, so that you can easily identify what portion of the price is added by the vendor.

Once you understand your own requirements, the next step is selecting the right vendor that meets your needs. In my follow up piece, I will explain some of the key considerations to help guide the selection process. 
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Joan Booth

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