Uber, Lyft, Sidecar asked by US lawmakers to use fingerprint checks of drivers

The eight members of Congress say measures taken so far to screen drivers do not take advantage of all the available tools

Eight members of the U.S. Congress have asked Uber Technologies, Lyft and Sidecar Technologies to adopt fingerprint-based background checks of their drivers, describing the procedure as "more comprehensive and harder to fake."

The ride-hailing companies have come under increasing pressure to better vet their drivers, particularly in the wake of reports of sexual and other assaults by drivers in some cities.

The members of Congress hold that the new requirement is nothing unusual as many state-regulated taxi cab companies are already required to use fingerprint-based background checks. Fingerprint checks are also more efficient as they are linked to countrywide databases of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they said.

"While we understand your companies conduct private background checks when vetting potential drivers, you should take additional steps to increase the safety of your customers," the eight Democratic representatives wrote in identical letters to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Lyft CEO Logan Green and Sunil Paul, CEO of Sidecar, citing reports of incidents in Boston, Los Angeles, District of Columbia, Chicago and San Francisco.

The regulatory issues faced by ride-hailing companies are not confined to the U.S. alone. In India, Uber was banned from operating services in Delhi after a driver allegedly raped a woman passenger. The Delhi authorities now want all Internet based taxi services to come under new and stricter rules for radio taxis.

The current screening standards for drivers do not take advantage of all the available tools, according to the Congress members. While no screening method is perfect, the members recommended that the most "rigorous and comprehensive" methods available should be used.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar currently contract with private companies to conduct background checks, which run Social Security numbers against county-by-county online records, according to the Congress members.

The letter was signed by Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Louise Slaughter, Niki Tsongas, Keith Ellison, Yvette Clarke, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Corrine Brown and John Garamendi.

Lyft said in a statement that in addition to using independent experts to screen potential drivers, the company also provides consumers with in-app photos of drivers and vehicles, real-time ride tracking, digital receipts, two-way rating systems, and an "around-the-clock Trust and Safety team." The company did not directly comment on the proposal by the members of Congress, though it suggested that the safety measures already taken by service providers should be adopted as the new standard. Uber and Sidecar could not be immediately reached for comment.

Uber and Lyft have previously come under scrutiny by U.S. Senators for their privacy policies.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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