Uber
Uber is criticised by prosecutors for not being clear on how drivers are screenedReuters

Uber is being sued by district attorneys in Los Angeles and its native San Francisco for not being transparent enough in how it performs background checks on its drivers. The ride-sharing company is also claimed to have allowed people convicted of murder and sex offences to drive for it.

District attorneys in Los Angeles and Uber's native San Francisco said on 19 August that background checks used by the company failed to uncover the criminal records of 25 drivers in the two California cities; one driver was released from prison in 2008 after spending 26 years behind bars for murder. The claims fly in the face of Uber's assurance that it uses an "industry-leading" screening process for all new drivers.

George Gascon, district attorney in San Francisco, said: "We are learning increasingly that a lot of the information that Uber has been presenting the consumer has been false and misleading." Uber does not use the same Live Scan fingerprint authentication as required by taxi drivers in California. These scans are the only ones which update after the driver has been hired, alerting their employer to any crimes committed after they become an employee.

The crimes committed by the 25 Uber drivers investigated by the district attorney include assault with a firearm, sexual exploitation of children, theft from the elderly and disabled and identity theft. Speaking at a local news conference, Gascon said around 30,000 registered sex offenders in California do not appear in the public registry used by Uber in its driver background checks.

'Troubling and misleading'

"So, for example, if someone was convicted of kidnapping eight years ago, and they were just paroled last week – they just got out of prison – the Uber background back process will not identify the person as a convicted kidnapper," Gascon claimed. He added that this was "troubling and misleading to Uber customers and to the public at large".

Uber says its checks go back as far as the law allows. The suit led by Gascon here is not focused on which background checks Uber users, but if customers are being deceived. "The main concern that we have here, and that we continue to have, is the fact that the consumer is not given the information, you know, the truthful information, in order to make an informed decision," Gascon said, adding that the suit "is only really scratching the surface".

Uber says it has acted on the evidence provided to it by Gascon, removing the highlighted drivers' access to Uber. The company said it needed more information on some of the drivers to pinpoint exactly who they are. Regarding its background check process, Uber said in a statement: "We disagree that the Live Scan process used by taxi companies is an inherently better system for screening drivers than our background checks. The reality is that neither is 100$ foolproof."

The company Uber uses to conduct driver background checks, Hirease, recognises on its website how fingerprinting aids background checks. "Fingerprinting helps uncover criminal history not discovered through traditional methods, offers extra protection to aid in meeting industry guidelines, and helps prevent fraud," it says.