The security week that was: 12/02/11 (background checks for security dealers)

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Background checks for security dealer staffs

The Electronic Security Association (ESA) is campaigning to gain access to the FBI database for background checks, arguing that since security industry employees need FBI background checks to ensure that it would "reduce the chances for felons to gain access to homes and businesses."

Here's the lay of the land on this topic. The proposed legislation (S. 1319 - PDF download ) is pretty generic. It doesn't really specify much about how the access would work, such that it would use IAFIS (the FBI biometric fingerprint system that is used to enter requests) and access the NCIC (the federal crime records database that stores everything from personal criminal histories to stolen cars, boats and more). I suppose that is to be debated in Congress, but the bill seems a bit lackluster and almost thrown together because it doesn't even address this. Maybe that is OK, because there would probably also have to be some details from the Dept. of Justice before this could be clarified.

Another issue, as the ESA noted in a missive to members, is the question of fairness. Right now, there are certain industries that can get special access to the NCIC. One is the guard services industry, which received access in 2004. There's also a provision for federally insured banking institutions to gain access to this federal database. The reasoning on that one is simple: If the federal government is going to underwrite/insure banks, it needs to ensure those banks are not being operated by crooks. The ESA-endorsed legislation, S. 1319 (introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer in June 2011), would allow all employees of an electronic security business to be checked against the database. It doesn't say just installers/service people. The way the legislation is written by Schumer, it covers everything from the janitor cleaning your equipment warehouse to the guy installing two windows and a door. I think that broad application will become one issue for this legislation (if it's given any review by the Senate at all).

The question is where do we stop? Does a PERS installer have more risk than the installer of a cable TV system in someone's home? Are they more of a risk than a guy who comes into your home or business to lay out carpet? This is the judgment that the Senate would have to make in committee. It's an important nuance, I think and again gets back to the question of who really deserves to be checked against this database. Would this legislation open the door for any contractor who works inside a home or business?

One issue is that typically access to the NCIC was only granted when specifically called for in licensing. Here's the text from Title 28 that addresses it:

"Criminal history record information contained in the III System and the FIRS may be made available ... For use in connection with licensing or employment, pursuant to Public Law 92-544, 86 Stat. 1115, or other federal legislation, and for other uses for which dissemination is authorized by federal law."

The issue as we know is that licensing is a state and sometimes a local issue, not a federal issue. In fact, the ESA itself seems to hem and haw on this topic. On one hand it wants access to check these files, but it doesn't seem to want any standards spelling out a government mandate on who would be approved and who wouldn't. I think there may exist a conflict here in that the industry wants access but doesn't want a national licensing mandate. From a recent ESA press release: "Although ESA believes that all employees in the industry should undergo criminal background checks as a way of maintaining safety and security, no government mandate would be involved." Honestly, I don't think this double standard of no national license will be an issue. Security officers still don't have a national license, but they can be checked against the FBI records.

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