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Conducting Employee Background Investigations in the Middle East

Why Conducting an Employee Background Check in the Middle East can be an Indispensable Recruitment Tool

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In the complex world of employee background screening, no two countries are alike.  In the United States investigators have a web of databases at their disposal and a vast network of local resources that provide a wealth of information at the mere click of a mouse.

It’s a different world in the Middle East.  Technology is limited in many parts of the region.  Privacy legislation varies from country to country and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Cultural differences can impact the flow of information.  Language barriers can contribute to inaccurate reporting. Employee background investigations in the Middle East can be a complicated process due to the region’s strict laws and regulations. Companies should ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable laws when conducting background investigations. This includes obtaining the necessary consent from the employee, verifying the applicant’s identity and credentials, and making sure that the information gathered during the background investigation is accurate and reliable. Companies should also consider using licensed third-party vendors, such as background check companies, to help verify the information and provide a more comprehensive overview of the applicant’s background and history. Additionally, companies should always keep records of background investigations, as this could be required by law. Companies should ensure that they take the necessary steps to protect the employee’s privacy and confidentiality during the investigation process.

Instead of database-driven investigations that are generally conducted in the United States, professionals in the Middle East must conduct large parts of their investigations literally on foot, traveling to remote regions to scour records and interview sources. This approach can take much longer, but it can be more effective in verifying facts, uncovering hidden documents or witnesses, and collecting evidence.

This approach can also be more dangerous for the investigators, as they may be exposed to the political and social dynamics of the region. For example, investigators may face hostility or even violence from local authorities or criminal organizations. In addition, investigators may be limited in their access to certain areas or be barred from accessing certain records due to cultural and religious restrictions. Language barriers can also be a major challenge in the Middle East. Many locals may only speak Arabic, which can make it difficult for investigators to communicate. This means that investigators must be more creative in finding ways to understand the local language, such as hiring interpreters or taking language classes.

Simply put, if you’re looking for accurate, reliable information in the Middle East you need to turn to qualified, professional sources that are familiar with the countries, cultures, terrain, languages, resources, and – most of all – the laws that govern personal privacy.  In this part of the world, your contacts and resources are your greatest asset.

Discovering Hard-to-Find Facts in Hard-to-Reach Locations

Discovering hard-to-find facts in hard-to-reach locations requires a combination of skills, creativity, and resources. Depending on the type of facts you are looking for, there are a variety of methods that can be used to access the information.

One of the most common methods is to use online search engines to find information. This can be done using keywords and phrases that are related to the topic. For example, if you are looking for a specific historical event, you can search for terms such as “date of [event],” “location of [event],” or “people involved in [event].” This can often provide a wealth of information from a variety of sources.

Another option is to use specialized databases, such as those found in libraries or archives. These databases may contain information that is not easily accessible through general search engines. For example, archival material, such as diaries, letters, and other documents, can contain a wealth of information that may not be readily available.

In many cases, it may be necessary to contact people in the area who may have knowledge of the topic. This could include family members, historians, or local experts. By talking to them, you can often uncover information that is not widely known. It is important to remember that these individuals may be reluctant to share information unless they are sure that it will remain confidential. If all else fails, it may be necessary to travel to the area in order to find the information. In some cases, the only way to access certain facts is to physically go to the location and explore the area. This can be a time-consuming but rewarding way to uncover hard-to-find facts.

No matter which method you choose, discovering hard-to-find facts in hard-to-reach locations requires patience and perseverance. However, with the right resources and techniques, you can often uncover a wealth of information.

The biggest challenge to conducting background investigations in the Middle East is collecting reliable information in the most efficient manner.  This requires a well-trained and diverse group of professional investigators who are multilingual and multicultural, are familiar with those geographic regions, and can easily traverse the obstacles that often impede international investigations.  Those obstacles include:

  • Working with local customs offices.
  • Complying with data protection laws and mandates.
  • Knowledge level of local investigative researchers.
  • Lack of centralized information resources and databases; and
  • The proliferation of multicultural environments that are particularly influenced by locals who vastly differ in their approaches to investigative screening and public record searches, particularly with information collected via database sources.

To address these obstacles, successful background investigators in this part of the world are often required to work deep in the field, traveling to remote destinations to conduct interviews, develop resources and enlist local assistance to verify the information.

Progressive screening firms will conduct investigations that regularly involve a thorough review of local press records, using online and proprietary databases augmented by manual field research to locate the appropriate public records. This in-depth investigative approach is necessary to bring to light any instances of malfeasance or notable, publicly aired criticism.

These professionals will also research all public records that are available within the respective government institutions such as a region’s trial courts, police and SEC sources, and global sanctions lists. The goal of providing this level of investigative legwork is to collect timely, well-documented, and substantiated information which will measure up to the high standards often required by our U.S. partners.

In addition, lack of access to records or to individuals necessary to conduct the investigation can be a significant challenge.  Language barriers, cultural differences, and the need to work with local partners to understand the local context and environment can be a challenge as well.  Working with government entities can also be a challenge due to the bureaucracy and red tape that often exist in many of these countries.  Finally, the need to understand the political and cultural dynamics of the region is essential to conducting effective background investigations in the Middle East.

Examples of Privacy Laws in the Middle East

While reputable screening firms in the United States comply closely with the Fair Credit Reporting Act to conduct domestic background investigations, foreign investigations are much more complex.

Middle East countries have no prohibitive legislation that governs the employment screening process.  At the same time, there is no cooperative legislation and regulation to support background screening services for employee due diligence.  However, we, as industry professionals, must adhere to strict data protection requirements (such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to process consensually based personal information. Following are some key regional legislations:

  • Bahrain Data Protection Law: The Bahrain Data Protection Law of 2018 provides comprehensive regulations for the collection, processing, and storage of personal data. It applies to all public and private sector entities in Bahrain, including foreign companies operating in the country. The Bahrain Data Protection Law does permit employee background screening to process sensitive personal information such as criminal history data. However, employers must ensure that such processing is done in a lawful and transparent manner and must obtain the consent of the employee prior to processing any sensitive personal information.
  • Qatar Cybercrime Law: This law, adopted in 2018, prohibits cybercrimes such as fraud, identity theft, and hacking. It also provides for the establishment of a specialized court to handle cybercrime cases. According to Article 8 of the Qatar Cybercrime Law, any processing of personal data must be done in accordance with the law and must be done only after obtaining the prior consent of the data subject.
  • Saudi Arabia Personal Data Protection Law: The Saudi Arabia Personal Data Protection Law of 2018 regulates the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data. It also establishes rules for the transfer of personal data to other countries. The Saudi Arabia Personal Data Protection Law does not permit investigators to process sensitive personal information such as criminal history data. According to the Saudi Arabia Personal Data Protection Law, investigators are only allowed to process personal data if it is necessary for the purposes of a legitimate investigation, legal proceedings, or the performance of a contract. Additionally, the law requires that investigators obtain consent from the data owner before processing any personal data.
  • United Arab Emirates Federal Data Protection Law: This law, adopted in 2019, sets forth requirements for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data. It applies to all public and private sector entities operating in the UAE. The United Arab Emirates Federal Data Protection Law does permit employee background screening to process sensitive personal information such as criminal history data. However, employers must obtain consent from the employee before collecting any sensitive personal information and must also follow certain other requirements, including informing the employee in advance of the purposes of the data processing, the type of data being collected, and the period of retention.

In our region, local police departments provide “Good Conduct Certificates” for employees for immigration purposes, while the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) awards a “Police Clearance” certificate for employee due diligence work. In some cases, a Police Certificate may be required as part of an employee background screening process. Depending on the country, the Police Certificate may provide information about the individual’s criminal history. An employer should consult with their local authorities to determine if a Police Certificate is required and what information it will provide.

In the United Arab Emirates, data protection laws permit investigators to process sensitive personal information such as criminal history data.  As a DIFC-licensed entity, the CRI Group (as well as other reputable background screening firms) must maintain strict adherence to the region’s Data Protection Law to fulfill our ongoing DIFC-licensed status.  As in the United States, the procurement of personal data in this region – and any subsequent transfer of data outside of the DIFC – may only be attained with the written consent of the individual being investigated.

Additionally, DIFC Data Protection Law stipulates that all collected information must be used for the specific purpose for which it was requested and must be securely stored and kept confidential.  The CRI Group fully adheres to these standards, and we also understand the importance of safeguarding our clients’ data from unauthorized access and misuse. To that end, we have adopted a rigorous set of security guidelines to ensure sensitive information remains secure.  All collected data is encrypted and stored on secure servers with restricted access.  Furthermore, our staff is trained to comply with appropriate data protection protocols and to maintain the confidentiality of all information.

Reputable screening firms in the Middle East will also comply with regional privacy laws (such as the EU data protection directive) by appointing an internal Data Protection Officer (DPO) whose primary responsibility is to conduct independent audits of the firm’s various information processing operations which handle customer and employee data.  The DPO ensures that personal data is handled in accordance with all relevant data protection provisions covering online and offline data procurement while complying with local and regional regulations pertaining to individual privacy standards.

How to Locate and Partner with Reputable Screening Firms in the Middle East

So how does one go about securing a reputable background screening source abroad?  BS 102000:2018 Code of practice for the provision of investigative services helping distinguish professionals from rogue operators.

The code of practice for the provision of investigative services should provide standards and guidelines that help distinguish professional investigative services from rogue operators. The code should include standards for the qualifications of investigators and the services they offer, the ethical conduct expected of investigators, the legal and regulatory framework for investigative services, and the terms and conditions of service. The code should also provide guidance on the use of appropriate technologies, the quality of services, the accuracy of the information provided, the protection of confidential information, and the security of the data collected during the course of an investigation.

The code should also provide guidance on the types of investigations that are appropriate for a particular investigation and the steps that should be taken to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a manner that is respectful of the rights of individuals and organizations affected by the investigation. Furthermore, the code should provide guidance on the use of data protection and privacy laws and the need to ensure that appropriate data security measures are in place.

Finally, the code should provide guidance on the need to ensure that the investigator has the necessary experience, training and qualifications to provide the services they are offering and the need to ensure that they adhere to the applicable professional codes of conduct.

The following checklist may be further helpful.

1.To begin, it is highly recommended that you research the listing of expatriate background screening firms provided by the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA).  The list can be found at www.thepbsa.org

2. Ask your provider how they comply with local and regional laws governing individual privacy protection and the methods they utilize in protecting information.

3.Make sure your service provider’s physical address is in the region they’re conducting investigations.  If not, they could be simply outsourcing their cases to a third party.

4. Ask about the manner in which your service provider conducts investigations.  Stay away from firms that investigate exclusively through media searches.

4.Inquire about the internal policies and procedures the service provider uses to monitor the protection of data, and if it conducts regular audits to ensure compliance with regional privacy mandates.

5.Don’t settle for firms that say they specialize in providing checks of the International Terrorist Watch List and the OFAC watch list.  Those lists are available online to anyone at no cost.

6.Stay away from firms that won’t supply you with the source of the records they obtain.  Also, be sure to ask how old the information collected is.The truly reputable firms will combine in-depth field investigations with routine public records searches.  Make sure your provider is doing both.

7.Service delivery is critical in foreign investigations.  Ask about average turnaround times and get commitments for delivery in advance of the investigation.

8. Find out what other U.S. companies use the service provider.  Ask for references.

As the world economy shrinks and the pool of foreign job applicants expands, a partnership with a reputable international background screening service provider to conduct investigations abroad is essential for maintaining a safe hiring program for your clients.  To ensure you’re using the best providers available, a little investigating of your own will result in big benefits down the road.

First, make sure the provider you’re considering is licensed and has a good reputation with international employers. Ask for references and check online reviews. Also, look into their compliance with global standards, like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and their ability to legally access data abroad.

Second, research their technological capabilities. Do they have the latest technology and tools to conduct efficient international background screenings? Are their country-specific databases up-to-date and easy to use?

Third, inquire about their customer service. Are they available for consultation and do they offer a help desk for quick answers? Do they provide customer support in multiple languages?

Finally, consider the cost. Are their rates competitive, and do they offer discounts for bulk orders?

By thoroughly evaluating these factors, you can be sure you’re partnering with the best international background screening service provider for your clients.

https://crigroup.com/employee-background-checks/

Zafar I. Anjum, MSc, MS, LLM, CFE, MICA, Int. Dip. (Fin. Crime), Int. Dip. (GRC), Int. Dip. (AML), MABI is the Group Chief Executive Officer of CRI Group, a global supplier of investigative, forensic accounting, integrity due diligence, and employee background screening services for some of the world’s leading business organizations.  An Incorporated and Licensed entity of the Dubai International Financial Centre-DIFC, Qatar Financial Center-QFC, and Ministry of Investment Saudi Arabia, CRI Group safeguards businesses by establishing the legal compliance, financial viability, and integrity levels of outside partners, suppliers, and customers seeking affiliate with your business.  CRI Group maintains offices in Pakistan, Singapore, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom.