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No biometrics yet for US government’s Login.gov

No biometrics yet for US government’s Login.gov

The General Services Administration (GSA), an independent U.S. federal agency that oversees the functioning of other agencies, will explore the use of facial recognition as part of its plans for wider acceptance of its identification and verification system that grants access to government services. It will not, however, use biometrics or liveness detection at this time.

A budget proposal for 2023 published by the GSA lists a variety of funding requests to modernize the agency. A portion is dedicated to Login.gov, an identification and verification system that serves 221 agency applications with 38 million registered users, providing access to federal services such as unemployment benefits. The GSA argues that Login.gov is a cost-effective solution with superior user experience and will enhance security. The GSA says it anticipates a tenfold increase in identity verification services by 2023 and sees strong demand. The agency aims to reach 350 government application in 2023 versus a 2022 target of 250. It also points to a 95 percent retention rate for Login.gov.

The U.S. government’s enlargement of digital ID services comes as fraud claims and attacks surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal funds for pandemic relief were a notable target, with scammers using masks to bypass facial recognition checks to verify identities as one example. An NBC News report says that after ID.me’s digital identity verification service was applied, there was a significant drop in unemployment claims two months after, suggesting enormous volumes of fraud attempts. The IRS reversed a requirement to use face biometrics from ID.me after pushback earlier this year, and committed to rolling out Login.gov as an alternative way for people to authenticate their identity.

The budget request notably states that the GSA is exploring how to address potential discrimination with facial recognition. Face biometrics have been beleaguered with accusations that the technology is influenced by and promotes racial biases that affect public trust and could show up in unequal access to government services.

The agency adds that it is “expanding its suite of identity solutions to increase diversity of vendor and Government data source providers,” to improve identity verification rates across a broader set of demographics, such as age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

A spokesman for the GSA told FCW that the agency, “made the decision for now not to use facial recognition, liveness detection, or any other emerging technology in connection with government benefits and services until rigorous review has given us confidence that we can do so equitably and without causing harm to vulnerable populations.”

The GSA says $187 million in funding from the Technology Modernization Fund’s American Rescue Plan appropriation resulted in increasing in-person identity verification services, reducing fraud, expanding access to digital services for millions of citizens, boosting cybersecurity, and reducing government-wide costs at scale. With the new budget, the agency seeks to grow the number of customer agencies using at least one GSA identity management solution from 27 to 33 agencies; more than double the number of annual active users on the Login.gov platform from 16 million to 41 million; and double its identity vendors and government data source providers utilized on the platform from two to four.

The GSA awarded Biometric Signature ID (BSI) a Multiple Award Schedule Contract last month.

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