Fingerprinting for federal contractors takes effect Feb. 1

By Kate Porter

RCMP ending its old practice of checking criminal history using a person’s name

New contractors taking on work with the federal government will have to submit their fingerprints electronically to the RCMP as of Feb. 1, so the law enforcement agency can run a criminal record check in its database.

But there isn’t likely to be a flood of thousands of people visiting fingerprint companies, because existing contractors will only have to submit their fingerprints if they need to upgrade their level of security clearance or when they need to renew their existing security clearance.

Public Services and Procurement Canada said it needs to make the change because the RCMP is ending its old practice of checking criminal history using a person’s name, which sometimes led to problems because names could be misspelled, too common or swapped for nicknames.

The RCMP now has the technology to handle criminal background checks using the quicker, more accurate, fingerprint method.

The new rules apply to all levels of clearance, from the basic “reliability status” to “top secret.”

Public Services says it has reached out to 20,000 companies in the last year, hosted webinars and piloted fingerprinting with one big contractor, so it hopes the transition to the new security screening will be a smooth one.

New screening for public servants in 2014

In some ways, it’s an expansion of a controversial new standard for public servants that is nearing the end of a three-year rollout that began in October 2014.

That policy requires all federal employees to submit to an updated security screening, including credit checks and fingerprinting.

The government said it was trying to make the policy consistent and fair across all departments, but unions argued the policy went too far.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service even sought an injunction at the Federal Court, but failed. The court found the union didn’t well enough prove that the harm to the privacy of its members outweighed the public interest of modernized security screening.

Canada’s privacy commissioner is also in the midst of confidential investigations into complaints about the Treasury Board’s 2014 security screening policy change.

Commissionaires not concerned about privacy

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada doesn’t have a problem with fingerprinting, in general.

“I can tell you that our office believes that the use of fingerprints for a criminal record check is appropriate to ensure authentication,” wrote spokesperson Valerie Lawton in a statement.

“We understand that fingerprints submitted for security screening will be destroyed after the check is complete.”

Commissionaires, one of the federal government’s largest contractors, has known about the changes for some time and doesn’t expect many issues, said its director of business operations Cheryl Fifer.

Fifer said employees, including 2,500 security guards in Ottawa alone, had no qualms about privacy.

In fact, she said they were calling to get their screening done ahead of the implementation date.

Commissionaires is also one of the private companies accredited to take people’s fingerprints for a fee and submit them to the RCMP. It has extended its hours, including adding weekend hours, in case there’s a big demand for fingerprinting services after Feb. 1