Washington to Leverage ID.me’s Facial Recognition Technology for Unemployment Claims

Washington state is preparing to roll out the ID.me facial recognition system that the IRS abandoned last month for privacy and fairness reasons.

Human rights activists and some federal lawmakers are calling on state government officials, including in Washington, to ban the system. Amid the outcry, the Washington Department of Employment Security said it does not use ID.me to verify the identity of people applying for unemployment benefits, but plans to start doing so in June .

“Recently, we launched a competitive procurement process to secure a tool that claimants would use to verify their identity before applying for benefits,” said Nick Demerice, Director of Public Affairs. ID.me, Demerice said, was the winning vendor.

Sold as a way to help prevent scammers from accessing unemployment assistance by adding an extra layer of security, ID.me offers government agencies and other customers a way to verify the identity of an individual using information such as a driver’s license, social security number, and facial scan. . The system prompts each user to take a “video selfie”, holding the camera in front of their face to scan until they see a green tick.

ID.me’s technology is already in use in 27 state unemployment systems, as well as several federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Four states have credited the system with preventing $210 billion in fraud, according to ID.me.

Washington launched a pilot project with ID.me in 2021, as part of its efforts to combat a spike in fraud in the spring of 2020, Demerice said. Washington state officials uncovered $1.6 million in fraudulent claims in March and April of that year, leading them to temporarily suspend unemployment benefits.

The state did not implement the ID.me system after the pilot project.

Recently, ID.me’s facial recognition technology has come under fire for the amount of information it collects from candidates, which opponents of the system fear could be misused, resold or stolen.

Critics also say the system creates barriers that prevent people from accessing unemployment assistance. The technology is not accessible to people who do not have a smartphone, computer or Internet access. According to them, facial recognition technology also perpetuates racial prejudice.

A study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that this type of technology resulted in more false positives for Asian and African American faces, compared to white faces, meaning it could have an impact disproportionately on people from communities marginalized by things like wrongful arrests.

Following a backlash, the IRS backtracked in February on plans to require anyone wishing to access tax records online to record a video of their face with their computer or smartphone.

Now activists are turning their attention to other government agencies that rely on the ID.me system.

Even as lawmakers pushed for the IRS to drop ID.me for taxpayers, many were silent about the “tens of thousands of people” already affected by the “discriminatory and harmful technology,” campaign manager Caitlin Seeley George said. for digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future.

“Many of our communities filing for unemployment across the country have felt demoralized and dehumanized by the ID.me process since the start of the pandemic,” Seeley George continued. “Some have been forced to wait months to receive the life-saving benefits they have earned and helped pay for. For these people, the dangers and harms of ID.me are not theoretical – they are reality.”

By the end of February, more than 20,000 people had signed a petition by Fight for the Future and 20 other groups calling for an end to government contracts with ID.me and an investigation into the federal government’s use of the technology. facial recognition.

The senses. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are pushing the US Department of Labor to help state unemployment programs find a way to verify applicants’ identities without rely on private entrepreneurs like ID.me.

Nearly 50 organizations signed a letter making a similar appeal, saying facial recognition technology has been shown to be globally biased and has a disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized communities.

The signature groups, which included the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said there was not enough data on ID.me’s performance, including understood its facial verification failure rate and whether the system was disproportionate. does not verify the identity of people of color.

It can also cut off access to unemployment benefits for people with disabilities, including the blind, or applicants who may not have access to necessary technology.

Blake Hall, founder and CEO of ID.me, said the system was created to increase access by providing more ways for individuals to verify their identities, especially for people with no backgrounds. credit, poor bank history, homeless or living abroad.

“Tying access to digital services to wealth is fundamentally unfair, and it has been the reality of access to government services in this country for decades,” Hall said. “ID.me is the first company to have increased access rates by decoupling it from credit history. That’s why I started the company.”

Hall says ID.me follows identity verification standards set by the federal government and is not responsible for collecting biometric data from individuals.

In response to concerns about its technology, the software company announced that it will now allow users to verify their identity without using automated facial recognition and remove certain identifiable information, starting March 1.

To guard against bias with its facial recognition technology and speed up the identity verification process, ID.me also plans to introduce a new feature that allows a human to immediately review the verification of any individual who has failed.

In Washington, ESD’s Demerice said the department “noted the significant concerns raised regarding ID.me’s use of facial recognition technology in its work with the IRS.”

“We take data security and privacy very seriously,” he said. “We will evaluate all information to ensure that we are implementing this verification tool in a safe and responsible manner. We understand the need to balance the competing priorities of applicant safety, ease of use and prevention fraud.”

Demerice said in February that the state was still determining how it would use ID.me, confusing groups like Fight for the Future and the ACLU’s Washington Chapter who believed the ESD was already using the system – partly because it was listed on the ID.me website.

The ESD asked the company to remove the page stating that Washington had “partnered with ID.me to verify claimants applying for benefits and services online,” Demerice said.

But confusion over whether Washingtonians applying for unemployment benefits are required to consent to the use of facial recognition technology is part of the problem with this kind of technology, said Jennifer Lee, technology and freedom project manager. at the ACLU in Washington.

“You can’t outsource essential government functions to a third-party vendor and not tell people how this system works, if they have biases, and even if they use this system,” Lee said. “We don’t know to what extent facial recognition technology is used.”

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