Representatives Maloney and Clyburn launch investigation into facial scanning company ID.me

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House lawmakers on Thursday launched an investigation into the effectiveness and security of identity verification contractor ID.me, after government agencies used the software to identify people accessing tax records and to unemployment assistance led to a rapid expansion of facial recognition in everyday American life. .

In a sweep 10 page letter addressed to ID.me Chief Executive Blake Hall, lawmakers have asked the company to turn over detailed records of its contracts with federal, state and local governments, as well as answer questions about how it investigates potential inaccuracies in its systems. Lawmakers raised ‘serious concerns’ about 10 federal agencies and 30 state governments contracting with ID.megiven questions about the accuracy of the facial recognition service and reports of long delays in using the service to access pandemic assistance.

The letter, which was seen exclusively by The Washington Post, was drafted by leaders of the House Oversight Committee, which monitors potential abuses of taxpayer funds, and the House Select Subcommittee on the Crisis of coronavirus, led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. . The joint effort reflects lawmakers’ concerns about the government’s use of the software. The tax authorities used ID.me to give taxpayers access to their records, while states have used the service to verify the identities of people applying for pandemic unemployment assistance.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that she hopes the investigation will lead to “more transparency and accountability” in the use of facial recognition by the government.

“Without clear rules of conduct, agencies will continue to turn to companies like ID.mewhich increases the risk that essential services will not be provided to Americans equitably, or that they will be denied outright, and that their biometric data will not be properly protected,” Maloney said.

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The investigation follows articles in The Post raising concerns about system accuracy, technical errors and lengthy delays.

No federal law regulates the use of facial recognition or specifies how the technology must be secured to protect privacy. The House inquiry is an escalation of years of controversy over the government’s growing reliance on facial recognition, which boiled over this year after the IRS said it would require Americans to scan their faces to access their tax accounts.

Government agencies have increasingly relied on facial recognition despite warnings from the General Services Administration that the technology is too problematic to justify its use. The House held hearings in 2019 highlighting bipartisan concerns over facial recognition, but efforts to pass legislation restricting its use have largely stalled.

Following complaints from members of Congress, taxpayers and privacy advocates, the IRS dropped its plans, announcing that it would “discontinue” use of the service.

ID.me later said it would drop the facial recognition requirement for all federal and state agencies.

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ID.me Spokesman Patrick Dorton said in a statement that ID.me remains a “highly effective solution” for government agencies and said the service has played a role in limiting fraud during the pandemic. He pointed to a Post column suggesting people have higher success rates setting up IRS accounts with ID.me despite privacy concerns surrounding the software.

“We look forward to providing important information to the Committee on how ID.me has expanded access to government for disadvantaged Americans, including people who have no credit history, are underbanked or homeless,” he said.

The IRS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawmakers’ letter to ID.me underscores how little is known about the extent to which governments use facial recognition and how accurate the services are. Lawmakers asked the company to report how many people went through the ID.me process to authenticate their identities to access government services and how many people were rejected. The letter also asks for the average wait time for service and details on the companies’ retention of biometric data related to government contracts.

In February, the company said the 73 million people who had used its service could delete their selfies or photo data.

The lawmakers’ letter also reflects their concerns about the company’s contracts with the IRS. In February, Maloney sent a letter to the IRS revealing that the agency had referred 7 million people to the facial recognition provider, and she asked for answers on how the agency would help people delete their data. and how much it would cost the IRS to terminate its $86 million contract with ID.me.

In a response seen by The Post, the IRS said that this would force ID.me to delete all selfies and face videos it received before March 11 and would not notify users of this process. The agency has not indicated any plans to terminate its contract with ID.me, noting that its contract allows for this at no additional cost.

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Lawmakers also say requiring ID.me to access key government services raises equity issues, especially for older and low-income people who may not have access to a smartphone or a laptop computer and who may need urgent government assistance. In 2021, about 15% of American adults did not own smartphones and 23% did not own desktop or laptop computers, according to data the letter cites from Pew.

“The ID.me process creates disproportionate barriers for older people who may find it difficult to use new technologies, rural and low-income residents without high-speed internet access, and households who share technology devices for school, remote work or job search. .”

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