The letter, which was seen exclusively by The Washington Post, was co-authored by leaders of the House Oversight Committee, which oversees potential abuses of taxpayers’ money, and the House Select Subcommittee. on the coronavirus crisis. The joint effort reflects lawmakers’ concerns about the government’s use of the software: the IRS used ID.me to give taxpayers access to their records, while states used the service to verify the identity of persons applying for unemployment assistance in the event of a pandemic.
Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that she hoped the investigation would lead to “more transparency and accountability” in the government’s use of facial recognition.
“Without clear rules of conduct, agencies will continue to turn to companies like ID.me, increasing the risk that essential services will not be provided to Americans equitably, or will be denied outright, and their biometrics will not be not properly protected,” the New York Democrat said.
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The investigation follows a series of articles in The Post raising concerns about system accuracy, technical errors and lengthy delays.
There are no federal laws regulating the use of facial recognition or how the technology must be secure to protect privacy. The House inquiry marks an escalation of years of controversy over the government’s growing reliance on facial recognition, which boiled over earlier this year after the IRS said it would require Americans to scan their faces to access their tax accounts.
Government agencies are increasingly relying on facial recognition despite warnings from the General Services Administration that the technology is too problematic to warrant 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 agency backtracked on its plans, announcing that it would “discontinue” using 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 and 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 identity to access government services, and how many were rejected. The letter also asks for the average wait time to use the 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 selfie or photo data.
The lawmakers’ letter also reflects their ongoing concerns about the company’s contracts with the IRS. Maloney in February sent a letter to the IRS, revealing that the agency referred 7 million people to the facial recognition provider and demanded 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 a smartphone and 23% did not own a desktop or laptop computer, 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. .”