Guest Columnists

Removing birthdate from Iowa court records could have unintended consequences

Over the past several years, efforts have been made to remove identifiers from public records due to concerns over identity theft. Many federal, state and local public agencies and courts are actively considering whether to remove or redact identifiers from public records and documents. The Iowa State Court Administration is considering redacting (masking) the date of birth (DOB) from court records. As well intended as this move may be to protect Iowa’s citizens from identity theft, it could carry with it some unintended consequences impacting those seeking employment or housing.

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) represents over 730 members engaged in pre-employment and tenant screening across the United States. Our industry is dedicated to providing the public with safe places to live and work. Redacting important identifying information from court records greatly impacts the ability of background screeners — who are hired by employers, landlords and volunteer organizations — to obtain the critical information needed to make accurate and timely hiring and leasing decisions.

Having an individual’s full DOB is a critical identifier in public record data as it helps ensure the correct data is matched to an individual. With thousands of people sharing the same name, full date of birth is critical in determining if a record belongs to an applicant. Furthermore, NAPBS members are trained to properly handle potentially identifying information and are subject to strict regulations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. Our members are also regulated by a patchwork of federal, state and local rules pertaining to data security and privacy laws.

Without this date of birth, background screening reports cannot be as complete and thus cannot help promote safety in our communities. Background screeners can either provide a report that includes a long list of criminal records based on the limited identifiers available and risk that most of the records will not apply to the applicant, or they can choose not to include any of the records with limited information — even though that record may very well belong to the applicant. Either way, the screener must spend time searching through an enormous amount of data leading to a delay for a job applicant or a family moving into a new home.

Protecting Iowans’ personal information from those seeking to do them harm is a shared goal of NAPBS and the Iowa State Court Administration. However, the removal of common identifiers from court records negatively impacts the accuracy of background reports making it more difficult for Iowans to be placed for work and find housing. We urge Iowa’s courts to examine the unintended consequences that could arise from an otherwise well intended proposition.

• Melissa Sorenson is executive director of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. More information: www.napbs.com

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