CA EDD’s ID.me facial recognition system could come under scrutiny

ID.me was touted by Governor Gavin Newsom as a crucial tool in the fight against unemployment insurance fraud, and the system has been credited with being a big help in doing so.

But now the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office is urging lawmakers to review ID.me. And ID.me, under pressure from Washington lawmakers and others, says it will offer alternatives to the controversial facial recognition system.

Analysts said the use of ID.me by Newsom and his Unemployment Insurance Strike Team was justified at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, “when the scale of the “backlog of claims called for swift and decisive action”.

But, according to the analyst’s report, “Now that this critical period has passed, we recommend that the legislature pause and carefully consider the implications of requiring a third-party biometric scan – in this case, facial recognition performed by artificial intelligence”.

ID.me can verify a person’s identity by having them take a photo or video of themselves. This is then digitally compared to the documents in their application.

The state’s Department of Employment Development, which administers the unemployment program, declined to comment. Congresswoman Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, who chairs a state administration budget subcommittee that plans a hearing on ESD on Tuesday, did not respond to a request for comment.

Changes for ID.me

ID.me had no comment Friday on the analyst’s report. He recalled his previous public statements. Last week, Blake Hall, CEO and founder of the company, said that after listening to feedback, ID.me would add an option for people to verify identities using a human agent.

“Over the past few weeks, we have changed our process so that government agencies can allow people to choose to verify their identity with an expert human agent without going through selfie verification. Agencies can now select this configuration,” he said. It is not known if this system is in place in California.

After March 1, Hall said, all ID.me users will be able to delete their selfie or photo on account.ID.me.

He announced the changes came the day after the Internal Revenue Service announced it was “moving away” from using facial recognition technology.

“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. options that do not involve facial recognition.

Key members of Congress have also expressed concern.

“Facial recognition should not be a prerequisite for accessing unemployment insurance or any other essential government service,” wrote Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and the Senses. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. , in a letter this week to Labor Secretary Martin Walsh.

They cited ID.me.

“It is of particular concern 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,” they said, “but has often unacceptable wait times for users to be screened by humans after being rejected by the company’s automated scanning system.”

EDD fights against fraud

In California, ID.me has proven to be an important way to reduce fraud and make the overwhelmed unemployment system more efficient, according to the analyst’s report.

“The introduction of automated identity verification has dramatically accelerated EDD processes so that benefits can be paid quickly during the pandemic,” the Office of the Legislative Analyst said in its report.

The system “probably also reduced fraud in temporary federal programs.”

Most of the alleged fraud in California involved federally funded unemployment benefit programs that ended last year.

Newsom touted ID.me at a press conference in September 2020 where he detailed the findings of his Strike Team, a blue ribbon group he created to recommend ways to make ESD more effective.

He explained how the state considered about 16 suppliers and then narrowed it down to 12″ where we really tested and launched the proverbial tires. And we came up with a system called ID.Me.

He said the program would allow people “to take selfies, to provide additional verification in a way that we believe could significantly, not exclusively nobody is naive, but significantly mitigate fraud.”

The analyst’s report found ID.me to be effective.

“Implementing automated identity verification dramatically accelerated EDD processes so that benefits could be paid quickly during the pandemic. The software likely also reduced fraud in temporary federal programs,” he said. he declares.

This story was originally published February 21, 2022 5:00 a.m.

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David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing, and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, California, Annapolis, Baltimore, and since 1981, Washington.

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