Special Report: Michigan Rule Change VS. CRAs – The Battle Over Birthdays

Special Report: Michigan Rule Change VS. CRAs – The Battle Over Birthdays

By Jennifer Gladstone

It all started out with what seemed like a simple rule change. Lawmakers in Michigan wanted to remove dates of birth from all public records available at courthouses across the state. Their goal, they said, was to protect those who are in the system from identity theft. But the outcry from Consumer Reporting Agencies, or CRAs, was immediate. 

Curt Schwall EBI

After January 1st, if the state of Michigan decides not to change the rule, we’re going to be in a position where complete and accurate background checks cannot be completed in the state of Michigan.

Curt Schwall is EBI’s Vice President of Compliance. Much of his role centers around protecting people’s sensitive information. But he says birthdays don’t fall into that category. 

If you’re going to pick up a prescription, what is the person behind the counter asking you for before they give you your prescription? They ask you for your date of birth. If you go online and you Google, you know, anybody in the spotlight, you can typically find their date of birth.

So, knowing someone’s birthday is a lot different than knowing their Social Security Number.

When we think about personal identifying information, you know, the Social Security number is tied to a specific individual. You have that number. A date of birth is not tied to a specific person. It can be a shared identifier. So, it is the best identifier in terms of background screening without posing a risk to somebody’s identity being compromised.

But you still may be asking why do CRAs care if they can’t see someone’s date of birth on a criminal record? 

There are many individuals who have the same name, so we need to go beyond a name, search and identify that that person is the right John Smith, for example. There are thousands and thousands of John Smiths or William Johnsons throughout the country. And we want to make sure that we have the right person that we’ve identified.

Let’s say a background screener, like EBI, did a search on that John Smith and found a criminal record. Normally, when a name match is found researchers will then look at the birthdate and other identifiers, like middle initial, to make sure that the John Smith with the record is the same John Smith applying for a new job. But if the rule goes into effect, and you can no longer see the birthday, what does the screener do? Report it anyway?

We are not in the possible criminal record business. We are in the complete and accurate background check business. And so, we are required, whether it’s through the Fair Credit Reporting Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we have standards of accuracy that we have to meet. And a name match simply does not meet those thresholds.

The state is offering an alternative search; the Michigan Statewide database known as I-CHAT. While you would find the most serious of offenses there, not everything gets passed up the line in a timely manner, and if an offense didn’t require fingerprinting, it won’t be there at all. The only way to find everything, and confirm everything, is to check each and every county where a job applicant lived or worked. 

Without having access to the originating jurisdiction where the information resides, we cannot provide a complete and up-to-date background check. It simply is not possible.

The Michigan Supreme Court pushed the implementation date from July 1st, 2021, to January 1st, 2022 – not to reconsider the rule – but to give courts time to get ready. 

CRAs across the country continue to lobby for the rule to be killed altogether, because it will not only hamper their work, but it will make it difficult for anyone who has lived or worked in Michigan to get a job – especially if they work in the government sector where background checks are mandated by law. 

If you have concerns about how this change could affect your background screening program, feel free to reach out to our Compliance Team at Compliance@ebiinc.com.

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About the Author

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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