Your date of birth is a common way to confirm who you are. It’s often the first question a pharmacist asks when you pick up a prescription. Travel agents will often ask for your date of birth when making a vacation reservation on your behalf. Heck, how do you think you get all those birthday wishes on Facebook?
The point is, a person’s date of birth isn’t considered sensitive information. It’s routinely used as a public identifier, including on a person’s criminal record.
So, why are some states removing a person’s date of birth on criminal records? Especially when they know employers need that information to help background check companies complete fair and accurate background checks on job candidates.
The answer may surprise you, and when you find out their reasons, you may want to take action to intervene.
A date of birth is not a unique identifier. It can be shared by many people. A person’s Social Security Number is a unique and private identifier tied to a specific individual. Most people have only one SSN, unlike a birthdate that can be shared by many people.
This is an important distinction, says Curt Schwall, Vice President of Compliance at EBI.
“When we think about personal identifying information, you know, the Social Security number is tied to a specific individual. You have that number,” says Schwall. “A date of birth is not tied to a specific person. It can be a shared identifier.”
Michigan and California are spearheading the movement to remove a person’s date of birth from public records. Although the impetus is slightly different for each state, the result will likely be the same. It may bring hiring to a standstill and millions of job candidates will be left in limbo as employers and background check companies try to navigate ways to complete background checks safely and accurately.
In Michigan, lawmakers are implementing a rule change to remove date of birth from all public records available at courthouses across the state. Advocates of the proposal say it’s designed to protect those who are in the system from identity theft. Michigan is on tap to implement this by January 1st, 2022.
In California, a civil rights group is fighting to have birthdates and driver’s license numbers removed from public-facing court indexes across the state of California. The group claims having the information freely available negatively affects people who are “trying to move beyond their criminal histories and rebuild their lives.”
However, without a date of birth it’s nearly impossible for a background screener to provide a complete, accurate, and up-to-date background check.
And that brings us to why removing a person’s date of birth from their criminal record is false logic and may harm job applicants instead of helping them.
The proposed changes aim to protect people’s sensitive information by removing a person’s date of birth from court records. However, as we have explained, a date of birth is different from a person’s Social Security Number which is a unique and private identifier tied to a specific individual. So, if a thief gains access to a person’s SSN, there is a much greater likelihood they can steal that person’s identity when compared to stealing a person’s birthdate.
“Date of birth is the best identifier in terms of background screening without posing a risk to somebody’s identity being compromised,” says EBI’s Schwall.
So, we’ve established that a date of birth is not a gateway to identity theft. But here’s what removing date of birth does lead to – it will make it virtually impossible for Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) to complete accurate background reports on job candidates because background check companies won’t be able to positively identify the right person. When researchers search public records for a background check, they are not looking to discover a date of birth. Rather, they are verifying the date of birth they’ve been provided by the job applicant who authorized their background check.
In Michigan, the stakes are even higher because the rule applies to anyone who has ever lived or worked in the state. This includes people applying for remote positions who no longer live in the state, which could affect thousands of companies and millions of candidates.
Yup, you guessed it. Delays in both states are already happening. Michigan is pointing researchers to IChat, an AI alternative to its statewide criminal record system. While you can find the most serious offenses there, not everything arrives in a timely manner. And if an offense didn’t require fingerprinting, it won’t be there at all. IChat also lacks pending case information. So, if you’re recruiting for a position and your candidate has a pending assault case, you won’t know about it through the IChat system. The only way to find everything, and confirm everything, is to check each county where a job applicant lived or worked.
California is also experiencing operational complications because of date of birth redactions. Instead of accessing date of birth information from public access terminals at courthouses, background check court researchers are now having to ask court clerks. In turn, court clerks are overwhelmed with these requests and there are delays in returning accurate background checks to employers. Additionally, some counties are limiting the number of searches that can be performed with clerk assistance, and that is really beginning to cause significant delays in California county criminal record searches.
Employers, trade associations, and CRAs across the country are lobbying to kill the rules because of how they hamper the screening process and make it difficult for people to land jobs – especially if they work in the government sector where background checks are mandated by law.
If you would like to specifically help reverse the Michigan rule, please sign this petition from the Professional Background Screening Association and consider sending Michigan lawmakers this downloadable letter template.
Our flagship industry news program, Screening News Network, is also keeping you informed about these rule changes with regularly updated videos. Subscribe here.
If you have questions and/or concerns about how this change could affect your background screening program, email the EBI Compliance Team.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.