Massachusetts unemployment office plans to drop facial recognition technology in coming weeks

Just a few weeks after the IRS abandoned the harsh use of the ID.me face recognition platform, faced with the scrutiny of elected officials and advocacy groups, the Unemployment Assistance Department plans to do the same in the coming weeks.

“Thanks to the organized reversal, the Biden administration seems to be abandoning plans for people doing business with the IRS to use face recognition,” said Cade Crockford, director of Technology for Liberty ACLU Massachusetts. “People don’t need to be required to pass on their confidential biometric data to a private company to receive government services.”

The IRS has announced plans to abandon the use of ID.me, which first began on Feb. 7, facing pressure from Senator Elizabeth Warren and other elected officials over concerns about privacy as well as racial bias against dark skin tones. built-in face recognition software. He first used the technology last year to give taxpayers access to personalized information on children’s tax credit entitlements under President Joe Biden’s U.S. rescue plan.

Massachusetts, as well as more than half of the other U.S. states, use ID.me, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. More than 46,000 Bay residents used ID.me from March 2021 to February 2022 to validate their IDs and apply for unemployment benefits.

The State Department of Unemployment Assistance first used ID.me to speed up access to assistance as a result of a nationwide fraud scheme in which people with stolen identity information targeted unemployment programs in several states, including the Massachusetts program.

Now that both claims and fraud have shrunk, the state plans to abandon the face recognition component. The agency said it would welcome the federal government’s recommendations regarding other verification measures, but did not specify that it would stop using the technology due to concerns from lawyers and lawmakers.

“We hope it’s not just a fallback option when they see an increase in fraud cases and that they see it as a tool in their toolkit, but instead they understand privacy and security issues and put them at the forefront when considering anti-fraud options Unemployment is moving forward, ”said Caitlin Seeley George, director of the Struggle for the Future campaign.

She added that other verification methods used by the federal government could be used instead, such as those that ask users for personal information about their previous addresses.

“Face recognition should not be a prerequisite for access to the user interface or any other important government services,” Senators Warren, Ron Wyden and Sherrod Brown wrote in a joint statement condemning the use of ID.me in government agencies.

“One of the most well-known providers in the space, ID.me, not only uses face recognition and lacks transparency about its processes and results, but often has unacceptably long waiting times until users are checked by people after being rejected by an automated company. scanning system, ”they continued.

A spokesman for ID.me said only eight out of every 10,000 identity verification attempts are marked for consideration on average. Of those eight, two lead to a verified account, and the other six are likely to be fraudulent. The company also recently announced an additional verification method that does not use face recognition.

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