February 15,2022

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Wyden, Brown and Warren Urge Labor Department to Help State Unemployment Insurance Programs Transition Away from Private Facial Recognition Contractors

“Facial recognition should not be a prerequisite for accessing UI or any other essential government services,” Finance Committee members say

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., with committee members Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., today urged the Labor Department to take steps toward ensuring state unemployment insurance programs are able to securely verify their applicants’ identities without relying on private contractors like ID.me that employ facial recognition. 

ID.me requires most users to submit to facial recognition to verify their identity, and workers in more than half of states must sign up with ID.me to verify their identities and access benefits, the senators noted in a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, sent today. 

“Facial recognition should not be a prerequisite for accessing UI or any other essential government services,” Wyden, Brown and Warren wrote. “It is concerning that so many state and federal government agencies have outsourced their core technology infrastructure to the private sector. It is particularly concerning that one of the most prominent vendors in the space, ID.me, not only uses facial recognition and lacks transparency about its processes and results, but frequently has unacceptably long wait times for users to be screened by humans after being rejected by the company’s automated scanning system.”

The Labor Department should assist state unemployment insurance programs to gain access to federal alternatives like login.gov, a service run by the General Services Administration, which offers a federal identity verification option, the senators wrote. Currently, 200 websites run by 28 Federal agencies, and more 40 million Americans have accounts on login.gov. 

The senators’ letter follows an announcement by the Internal Revenue Service that it is transitioning away from ID.me. An array of civil liberties advocates and members of Congress urged the IRS to end the use of the company’s facial recognition service as a condition of accessing account data online. The service is not required to e-file tax returns. 

The full letter to the Labor Department is available here.