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Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder backs Uber in letter to Atlanta mayor

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in support of Uber, as the city considers regulations of Uber pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The Atlanta airport earlier this year proposed to legalize airport ride-share pickups and require fingerprint-based background checks for Uber X and Lyft drivers to pick up at Hartsfield-Jackson. Taxi and limo drivers who have long been fingerprinted say they want a level playing field.

Uber and Lyft have objected to the proposed requirement, saying they do their own background checks, which do not require fingerprints. The city of Atlanta is revising the airport proposal but has not said how it will change.

Holder, who was the nation's first black attorney general, argues in the letter to Reed: "Requiring fingerprint-based background checks for non-law enforcement purposes can have a discriminatory impact on communities of color."

Holder's reasoning, also voiced by Uber: FBI records may lack information about the final outcome of some cases, and may not indicate if someone arrested was charged or convicted, so a fingerprint-based check "can prevent people from getting a job even if they were never found guilty of a crime." That "disproportionately disadvantages people who have been arrested," which "can have a discriminatory impact on communities of color," Holder wrote.

Reed's office and the airport acknowledged receiving the letter but declined to comment on it.

Holder, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and left office in April 2015, works for law firm Covington & Burling LLP. The firm has a relationship with Uber that is also connected to Holder. Holder's former chief of staff Margaret Richardson also now works at Covington & Burling and is a member of Uber's U.S. Safety Advisory Board, providing "critical recommendations and counsel" to Uber.

Holder has written recent similar letters to officials in New Jersey and Chicago amid ride-share debates there.

And former U.S. Secret Service director Mark Sullivan also wrote a letter in support of Uber to Reed. Sullivan is also on Uber's safety advisory board.

"In my opinion the City's proposal to require a fingerprint-based background check for drivers doing pick-ups with Uber and Lyft at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlatna International Airport will neither increase nor improve airport security," Sullivan wrote in his letter. He also wrote: "Because there is a significant lack of information about the final outcome of cases, an individual may be prevented from a work opportunity even if he or she was never convicted or even charged with a crime."

However, the state's requirements for a "for-hire endorsement" on a driver license specify that in order to be eligible, applicants shall not have been convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude.

"The standards for the state level are a conviction," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation director of privacy and compliance Dawn Diedrich. A plea of nolo contendere is also considered a conviction.

Diedrich said if there is an arrest on record without information about whether there was a conviction, "you can ask the applicant" if the charges were dismissed.


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.