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Under review by IRS, will ID.me get booted from state unemployment offices?

Under review by IRS, will ID.me get booted from state unemployment offices?
 

Was the recent face biometrics reversal by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service the start of something bigger?

Time will tell, but three powerful senators are following up that news with a letter to the head of the federal government’s Labor Department strongly suggesting it dissuade states’ unemployment insurance agencies from using facial recognition to verify citizens’ identification.

The trio is more pointed than that, however. Democratic senators Ron Wyden, Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren want any states using the digital ID-authentication vendor ID.me to drop their contracts.

ID.me was the verification vendor that the IRS chose in an effort to decrease fraud and expedite authentication, and then ‘transitioned away from’ as the lone online option. No contract-award announcement was made and there was no rollout campaign.

That lack of transparency gave privacy advocates and anti-government types credible grounds to attack the idea. There also are examples of ID.me failures.

A week after the U.S.’ federal tax agency retreated from its requirement that citizen identities be verified for online services using a face biometrics vendor, a trio of powerful senators want to push the same vendor out of state unemployment agencies.

The federal Labor Department generally cannot tell state versions of itself what to do, but it can sometimes influence tactics and policies at the state level.

It administers several unemployment-relief programs that augment state programs. For example, federal funds can be added to local funds in states with high employment rates.

But ongoing consulting work is far more common. The department helps state agencies by offering direction, leadership and assistance in various areas including technology.

The senators want Labor Department Martin Walsh to use that soft power to get state relief programs integrated into the Government Services Administration’s login.gov ID verification infrastructure.

Many states have already built up their implementations of facial recognition and alternatives for identity verification, however.

The Oregon Employment Department has arrived at a system offering ID.me and alternative methods of identity verification for benefits claimants, the Portland Tribune writes, and the agency’s Acting Director David Gerstenfeld says it now has “good safeguards in place.”

The agency contracted ID.me for a pilot in March, 2021, after suffering an estimated $24 million in state fraud losses during 2020. Alternatives were instituted and multilingual communications beefed up during the fall of 2021, Gerstenfeld says, after the agency observed that younger people, Spanish speakers, some visible minorities, and people with limited access to computers were having difficulty accessing services. He says roughly 17,000 of 27,000 remote benefits claims since the Employment Department began using ID.me have been completed using the technology.

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