Background Checks

on June 22, 2008 in Leadership, National

For a few years now, the Boy Scouts of America has done background checks on new adult leaders in troops, packs, and crews. When the organization first began doing this I thought it was a bit extreme, but I have gotten used to the idea. I have also noticed that others groups, clubs, and even schools now do the same thing for their volunteers.

Will background checks work to keep out the rift raft and troublemakers? I am sure it will help, but nothing is one hundred percent foolproof. It does sound like it has stopped some “undesirables” from holding Scout leadership positions. Unfortunately, it is also stopping some good people from holding a leadership role due to mistakes made early in their lives.

For example, I had a father who was very active with the troop. He worked well with the boys and they respected him. He was a good assistant scoutmaster. Unfortunately, when the council did a background check on him the council found that he had made a few wrong choices in his life over twenty five years ago. and then denied his application. This gentleman had straightened out his life a generation ago, has raised a fine family, and had already proven himself to be a good troop leader, but the BSA says that he is no longer good enough the be an assistant scoutmaster. (And no, I am not going to write here what his record showed, even though I know because he and I have talked about it.)

In this example, I think the background check has backfired against the local troop, and thus the BSA. This policy is actually keeping a good man out of the program. It makes me wonder how many more times this has happened around the country. Don’t get me wrong though, I happen to agree the background checks are a good idea, but I also think we need to take a look at the current character of the person, not just what happens to be on record from a generation ago. After all, people do change. They learn from their mistakes.

Or are we now going to teach the boys that once they make a mistake we should hold that against them for their entire lives?

I have been a scoutmaster in Scouting for over 25 years, so the background check has not been done on me yet. Last week I did receive a letter from the National Office asking me to complete a form because they are now doing the checks on all adult leaders. I can mail the form in, or I can do it online.

I am not worried. I have never been arrested, never done drugs, never been part of a political demonstration. I have never even got a speeding ticket. I am just an ordinary law abiding citizen of Minnesota. Always have been, always plan to be.

However, when I think about it, would this not be a dandy way to get out of being a scoutmaster after all these years? Hey Bubba, pass me a bottle of beer and give me the keys! It is time to get a record. (I am kidding, of course.)

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    5 Responses to “Background Checks”

    1. Nick Wood says:

      These are a necessary ‘evil’ these days unhappily, but some common sense has to be applied.

      I think your example of the Assistant who was ‘banned’ wouldn’t happen in the UK.
      If something did crop up during checks, it would be looked into and the issues raised would be assessed accordingly.

      I understand that Leaders in the UK are to be checked now every 5 years as part of their warrant review process.
      Of course, checks are only really valid on the day they are made. There is noting to stop me committing a crime the day after my check come through as ‘clear’. Not that I intend to do so of course!

    2. Anonymous says:

      I recently received a letter from the Chief Scout Executive, Robert Mazzuca requesting that I submit to a criminal background check because my tenure in scouting has preceded 2003 when those checks were initiated for new volunteers.

      I have always been impressed with the BSA policy regarding the minimum two-deep leadership requirement for all scout activities. It is a stance that is proactive and effective – not only for the scouts but for the leaders as well. I live in the Los Angeles area. In the local news during the last few weeks, there have been reported at least 5 arrests for suspected child molestation on the part of LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) personnel. LA area schools not only conduct background checks (i.e., National Agency Checks or NACs) on their employees but they also collect fingerprints. This indicates to me that the NAC process is not particularly effective; it is not a deterrent or a predictor of illegal behavior and in fact gives students and their parents a false sense of security regarding student safety. Unlike school, scouting requires two-deep leadership. Unlike school, scouting is not a required activity. If parents are not happy with the way their son is mentored, there is no requirement for them to continue to participate.

      So I am perplexed why the BSA is implementing this process. I am even more perplexed after reading the required Acknowledgement and Authorization Form for California residents (see Attachment 1 – Authorization Form). It is posted on a password-protected, BSA website that has a privacy policy that purports to be narrowly tailored. Inconsistent with that policy and under threat of dismissal, I am being compelled to sign a document which authorizes the company ChoicePoint to do more than just a criminal background check. I would be allowing them to collect massive amounts of consumer information about me if they so desire. If one goes on-line and searches on ChoicePoint in Wikipedia, many revealing problems are listed in the references:

      1) In January of 2006, ChoicePoint was fined $15 Million dollars by the Federal Trade Commission for improperly handling people’s personal information. The previous year, ChoicePoint provided information on over 125000 people to scam companies that were specifically set up by thieves for the purpose of stealing people’s identities. See http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/01/choicepoint.shtm
      2) In January of 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation terminated all ChoicePoint access to Pennsylvania records based on evidence the company ignored rules about maintaining the privacy of that information. ChoicePoint was assessed a
      $1.35 Million dollar penalty for the infraction. See http://www.ins.state.pa.us/ins/cwp/view.asp?A=11&Q=525493
      3) There is no requirement for ChoicePoint to verify the accuracy of the information that it collects. If problems arise, you are only allowed to visually inspect the report and then you are compelled to prove your innocence if the records are in error. You will likely get little cooperation in this task because bad data reflects negatively on ChoicePoint who has a vested interest in ignoring problems as do the companies that use or provide these data. It reflects on their competency and it reflects on their bottom line because it costs to correct mistakes. In the mean time, the wrong people suffer. See http://www.ftc.gov/os/comments/FACTA-AccuracyStudy-Part%20II/050606hagan.pdf
      4) In the Acknowledgement and Authorization Form, it says “The types of information that may be obtained include but are not limited to ….” pretty much everything – emphasis added. They can check on your neighbors, your relatives, your political affiliation, the organizations that you support, etc. They can question people who think that you are a jerk – justified or not. The claim regarding restrictions on credit record checks and motor vehicle record checks can be easily circumvented. Apparently court records related to these activities are fair game. This information can be used by marketing firms, insurance companies, etc. And the more data they have, the more companies they can service and the more money they make and there is no indication that this can not be done.
      5) Privacy regulations prevent the government from collecting certain types of information whereas the regulations for private companies are not as compelling. So these private firms sell their data to government agencies. See http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=32802
      These data are being collected in the form of personal individual dossiers. Ostensibly anyone in the country can be targeted. See Fusion Centers : Issues and Options for Congress http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RL34070.pdf This information can be used to circumvent the law by surreptitiously excluding individuals from employment who would normally be well qualified if their competency were based solely on their work resume. Recent revelations by the Inspector General regarding politically based hiring abuses in the Department of Justice come to mind – http://media.npr.org/documents/2008/jun/doj_hiring.pdf The Fusion Center report also cautions that those centers, in collaboration with information collection agencies, can “allow state entities to act as agents of the federal government in performing federal intelligence community activities that violate federal privacy laws.”

      And finally, who determines suitability and what are the suitability criteria? Nothing is said about that in this authorization either. The fact is that the wording in the online authorization that I am being asked to endorse goes far beyond a limited criminal background check. The privacy notice on that site (dated April 1, 2008) denies that personally identifiable information is disseminated to third parties except for site misuse or as required by law. It also implies that the leader information collected is limited to date-of-birth, driver’s license, and social security number. Both statements appear to me to be false. ChoicePoint, a non-government, third party, for-profit company is involved. No mention is made of this company on the paper applications presented to new volunteers. Not only do I have serious reservations about giving information to ChoicePoint, I have also asked others to fill out these forms while under the impression that their information would be used for a narrowly tailored investigation of criminal child sexual abuse issues through government agencies. That assumption is now in doubt as is the trustworthiness of the privacy notice on the ScoutNET site – a BSA site no less. Collecting “consumer information” is not the same as conducting a “criminal background check”. The word “consumer” is repeated more than dozen times in the online, California authorization. Is the organization of the BSA being unwittingly used as an agent of a commercial, for-profit, information-collection agency? And is it appropriate to post a privacy statement on a site that requires its participants to abdicate all of their privacy rights to such a company as a condition of acceptance as a volunteer? I am not only concerned about identity theft but I am as concerned with the unwarranted and unrestrained collection of consumer information and the associated inaccuracies in that data that can cause me and the volunteers that I recruit considerable grief at unexpected times in our lives. In fact, these data can be used for marketing schemes and if distorted, can be easily used for financial advantage – higher interest rates, higher insurance rates, etc. They can also be used to illegally and surreptitiously segregate individuals by the organizations that have access to these data. History is replete with states acting in this manner to suppress freedoms that many in this country have died defending.

      By using ChoicePoint, the BSA National Office appears to have little regard for the privacy of its members. I’ve been teaching scouts citizenship based on the Constitution and ethical principles – perhaps I will be stopped. But it is clearly inappropriate for me to put myself and my family at risk for identity theft and intrusive marketing tactics from devious for-profit companies in support of a policy that has not been demonstrated to be effective. The lack of openness here is one hallmark of unethical behavior and can only evolve into a lack of trust. It reflects on the principles of any organization that supports it. But it is even worse for an association that purports to be based on ethical and religious principles. There has been no reasonable clarification offered for these actions and only threats of dismissal. Stereotyping people based on privately held criteria by local district leaders who are under threat of dismissal (i.e., loss of their jobs) if they do not comply with National guidelines (whatever they are) is tantamount to witch-hunt McCarthyism. And I know of no major religion that considers these actions acceptable. If these requirements on the part of BSA National are accurate, the country has lost much more than just my participation in Scouting.

      Attachment 1 – Authorization Form
      From: https://scoutnet.scouting.org

      NOTICE TO APPLICANT REGARDING BACKGROUND CHECK
      In order to safeguard the youth in our care, Boy Scouts of America will procure consumer reports on you in connection with your application to serve as a volunteer and Boy Scouts of America may procure additional consumer reports at any time during your service as a volunteer in order to evaluate your continued suitability for volunteer service. Boy Scouts of America has contracted with ChoicePoint, a consumer reporting agency, to provide the consumer reports. ChoicePoint may be contacted by mail at 1000 Alderman Drive, Alpharetta, GA 30005 or by telephone at (800) 853-2414.
      The consumer reports may contain information bearing on your character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and mode of living. The types of information that may be obtained include but are not limited to social security number verification, sex offender registry checks, criminal records checks, inmate records searches, and court records checks. The information contained in these consumer reports may be obtained by ChoicePoint from public record sources. The consumer reports will not include credit record checks or motor vehicle record checks.
      The nature and scope of the consumer reports are described above. Nonetheless, you are entitled to request a complete and accurate disclosure of the nature and scope of such reports by submitting a written request to ChoicePoint at the address listed above.
      Additional notices for applicants in California are provided below.
      APPLICANT’S ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND AUTHORIZATION
      I have carefully read this notice and authorization form and hereby authorize Boy Scouts of America and ChoicePoint to procure a consumer report, which as described above will include information relating to my criminal history as received from reporting agencies. I understand that this information will be used to determine my eligibility for a volunteer position with Boy Scouts of America. I also understand that as long as I remain a volunteer, additional consumer reports may be procured at any time. I understand that if Boy Scouts of America chooses not to accept my application or to revoke my membership based on information contained in a consumer report, I will receive a summary of my rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and contact information for the reporting agency, ChoicePoint.
      By clicking on the Agree button below, you indicate that you have read, understood, and accepted the accompanying disclosures and acknowledgments.
      You have the right to request a free copy of any report procured on you. If you wish to receive a free copy of any report procured on you, please contact your local council
      ADDITIONAL NOTICES TO CALIFORNIA APPLICANTS

      Under California law, the consumer reports described above that the Boy Scouts of America will procure on you are defined as investigative consumer reports. These reports will be procured in connection with your application to serve as a volunteer and additional reports may be procured at any time during your service as a volunteer in order to evaluate your continued suitability for volunteer service. The reports may include the information on your character, general reputation, personal characteristics and mode of living.

      Under section 1786.22 of the California Civil Code, you may inspect the file maintained on you by ChoicePoint, during normal business hours and with proper identification. You may also obtain a copy of this file, upon submitting proper identification and paying the costs of duplication, by appearing at ChoicePoint’s offices in person, during normal business hours and on reasonable notice, or by certified mail upon making a written request. You may also receive a summary of the information contained in this file by telephone. ChoicePoint will provide trained personnel to explain any information furnished to you and will provide a written explanation of any coded information. This written explanation will be provided whenever a file is provided to you for visual inspection. If you appear in person, you may be accompanied by one other person of your choosing, who must furnish reasonable identification.

    3. Johnny says:

      “I am not worried. I have never been arrested, never done drugs, never been part of a political demonstration. I have never even got a speeding ticket.”
      ——————————–
      Well you should be worried my friend.
      These background reporting services are not compelled to add ONLY accurate information.
      Neither do they EVER follow federal law mandating that certain info can only be reported for 7 years.

      There are literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of cases where inaccurate information is being sold, all just to make a buck.

      Just hope that YOU aren’t one of these poor soul who just happens to share the same name and year of birth an axe murderer in another state, a child molester or whatever.

      As it stands right now, “Clean Joe Blow born in 1969 from Ohio, more often than not has his reports merged with “Murdering Joe Blow born in 1969 from Kentucky.
      (Right, THEY DO NOT REFERENCE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS.)
      They can completely destroy your life, and there is exactly NOTHING WHATSOEVER that you can do to get it straightened out.

      Don’t believe me?
      Visit http://www.choicepoint.com and try to actually land on actual information about disputing your record.
      It cannot be done.
      If they make a mistake, you’re ruined.

    4. background checks says:

      @Johnny
      The FCRA no longer requires that background check companies limit their criminal record searches to 7 years.

    5. people search says:

      Maybe to background check one person as you have posted about the Boy Scout leader it can really affect his leadership if they will judge him by his past mistakes, and it depends on his reason if he committed that mistake intentionally and if it was serious offense.

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