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Christmas came early for Maryland residents on Thursday when the state decided to allow the business models used by Uber and Lyft. That day, the Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that the name-based background checks Uber and Lyft use to screen the companies’ drivers are just as “comprehensive and accurate” as government fingerprint background checks.

Had the ruling gone the other way, all ridesharing drivers would have had to get fingerprinted and Uber and Lyft likely would have left the state. This was no idle threat, as the companies ceased operations in Austin, Texas, earlier this year over the city’s fingerprinting requirement.

Before the decision was released, I wrote at the American Spectator that this whole debate was a classic case of policymakers putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk because they watch too much “CSI” on television. Fingerprint background checks sound secure, but they are unnecessary, ineffective and discriminatory when misused as a job screening tool.

Though fingerprinting sounds foolproof, these types of checks often fail at registering offenses that name-based ones would flag. Name-based background checks query thousands of courthouse and law enforcement databases to find relevant records. Fingerprint checks only pull information that is connected to fingerprints.

For example, the database Maryland uses for fingerprint background checks excludes certain traffic violations, including DUIs and reckless driving incidents — both of which name-based background checks would catch. Ridesharing companies clearly need to know about those types of infractions to keep riders safe.

While missing major red flags is a problem with fingerprint background checks, an even more troubling consequence of forced fingerprinting is that otherwise qualified and safe drivers will be denied work opportunities. If someone is arrested, but then found not guilty or never charged with a crime, that information would need to be updated by law enforcement for fingerprint background checks to be effective. Yet this follow-up step is often overlooked, causing to discriminatory results in fingerprint background checks.

Since 2010, the Department of Justice revealed that more than 11,000 people were arrested in Baltimore but never charged with a crime. This happens nationwide, as a 2013 National Employment Law Project study found that around a third of felony arrests never led to any conviction. These are the types of cases that lead to problems with fingerprint background checks.

And these problems are substantial. A fingerprint search of the database that Uber and Lyft would have been forced to use only gives an accurate and complete criminal history for applicants about half of the time, according to testimony from SUNY Albany professor Shawn Bushway. There is no reason to mandate a background check system that is as accurate as a coin flip.

The commission acknowledged that no background check system is completely accurate, but ridesharing’s safety record shows name-based checks work. Furthermore, instead of increasing public safety, Maryland policymakers are placing their constituents at greater risk by mandating fingerprint background checks.

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Perhaps nowhere is this unintended consequence clearer than with drunk driving. Uber has been documented to lower both drunk driving arrests and fatal accidents, partly because taxis are difficult to find late at night. New Year’s Eve would be much more dangerous if Uber and Lyft couldn’t help intoxicated partgoers get home.

Fingerprint background checks, which were designed as a law enforcement tool, were never meant to be used for job screening. When required, they are ineffective and discriminatory. Maryland realized what Austin didn’t, and now those flying into Baltimore Washington International Airport after the holidays will be able to use ridesharing to get home. More importantly, the 30,000 Marylanders who drive with Uber and Lyft can continue to use the services to support themselves and those who rely on them.

Jared Meyer is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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