US senators want FTC probe into ID.me
A group of Democratic senators led by Senator Ron Wyden have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate ID.me for allegedly misleading the government about its facial recognition service.
A statement by Senators Wyden, Cory Booker, Edward Markey and Alex Padilla says ID.me was “deceptive” about claims that it used one-to-one face biometrics rather than one-to-many.
They authors point to January when ID.me CEO Blake Hall backtracked on his claim that his company does not perform one-to-many facial recognition only to admit in a LinkedIn post two days later that it does indeed do that.
The senators asked FTC chair Lina Khan to look in to ID.me to see if the company has engaged in deceptive and unfair business practices.
ID.me has also faced criticism from privacy advocates and some lawmakers over an Internal Revenue Service feature through which citizens could elect to use a short video as part of a verification process leading to the creation of an IRS account.
Critics have argued that most facial recognition algorithms are less accurate in identifying anyone other than a middle-aged white male. They also point to the very real chance that a biometric database could be hacked, and IDs stolen.
IRS officials shortly after launching the service said it would be an option for taxpayers.
The agency has since said access to online services for tax professionals — e-Services — will be gated by ID.me’s face biometrics checks before fall, according to trade publication Accounting Today.
What is more, senators say that ID.me has misled consumers about how the company used its biometric data and may have influenced officials at state and federal agencies in choosing an ID verification provider for government services.
“These officials had the right to know that selecting ID.me would force millions of Americans – many of them in desperate circumstances – to submit to scanning, using a facial recognition technique that ID.me itself acknowledged was problematic,” the senators write in their request for an investigation.
They also argue that the IRS’ biometrics-based service may have disproportionately denied black Americans and Asian-Americans access to government services due to a higher rate of false negatives for those groups.
The letter cites a National Institute of Standards and Technology facial recognition vendor test that found “rates of false matches are as much as 100 times higher for individuals from countries in West Africa, East Africa and East Asia than for individuals from Eastern European countries.”
That is not true across the board, and ID.me does not use the algorithms referred to.
Defenders of the IRS’ partnership with ID.me say that its facial recognition algorithm has made a significant improvement in combatting racial bias. Also, hiring more people to replace automated biometrics (as Wyden has recommended) would be ineffective, they say. And there is no reason to view the IRS as a special offender when it comes to privacy violations.
Newly liberal-leaning FTC expected to be more active
The Senate appointed privacy scholar and Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology Founder Alvaro Bedoya as a commissioner, giving the commission a 3-2 Democratic majority.
This could mean changes in rulemaking for data privacy and facial recognition, according to The National Law Review.
Bedoya, nominated by President Joe Biden, was confirmed by the Senate to replace commissioner Rohit Chopra. The Review notes the difference in opinion from Republican appointee Christine S. Wilson, who in 2021 opposed rules designed to, “curb lax security practices, limit privacy abuses, and ensure that algorithmic decision-making does not result in unlawful discrimination.”
Between Bedoya, who wrote critically of the use of face biometrics by police while with the Center on Privacy & Technology, and advisors brought into the FTC from AI Now, the commission is expected to scrutinize facial recognition closely.