Deep Background

The FBI uses fingerprints to do continual screening of workers in sensitive jobs

The FBI is using fingerprint technology to help school districts, airports, and other civilian organizations employing people in sensitive jobs, to carry out post-hire vetting of their employees.

Traditionally, when government agencies have sent a job applicant’s fingerprints to the FBI in a background check, the bureau would expunge the prints after checking. But under the FBI’s recently launched Rap Back system, the FBI retains the fingerprints of employees working for civilian organizations that pay the FBI a subscription fee. Typical subscribers are school districts, day-care centers, home healthcare agencies, airports and other employers of people holding “positions of trust.”

The FBI’s fingerprint database, supplemented by a number of states’ databases, keeps a file of the relevant employees’ fingerprints so that they can be “continuously searched” by the bureau, according to a recent Justice Department statement. The schools and other subscribers – as well as police departments, prison systems and other agencies, which don’t pay a fee to the FBI — are notified if the Rap Back system notes a felony arrest, arrest warrant or other “triggering” run-in with law enforcement.

In 2015 then-FBI Director James Comey testified before a House panel that Rap Back, then in the planning stages, would fill a “hole in the system… People are clean when they first go in [to a daycare center or other job]. Then they get in trouble five years down the road. You never tell the daycare about this.”

Civil-liberties activists point out that many FBI and police records are inaccurate or fail to note the final disposition of an arrest, such as an acquittal. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the online publication The Intercept that Rap Back illustrates an unfortunate societal trend, the permanent policing of day-to-day lives. “The whole purpose of the program is for people to be fired,” Stanley said.

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