Congress launches investigation of ID.me technology

TAMPA, Fla. — Concerns the I-Team first revealed more than a year ago about ID.me’s facial recognition technology blocking legitimate applicants from accessing state unemployment benefits has gained national attention.

More than 550 Floridians, who collected unemployment in the past year, have recently contacted ABC Action News saying they were unable to access their 1099-G forms because of problems verifying their identity through ID.me. The form is needed to file taxes.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis are now launching an investigation into the company. In a letter to ID.me CEO Blake Hall, House lawmakers wrote they have serious concerns about the privacy and security of ID.me’s technology being used on millions of Americans.

In the letter to ID.me, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Chairman Jim Clyburn noted long wait times for users to verify their identities and other roadblocks, blocking access to essential services such as state unemployment and federal taxpayer services.

The letter stated ID.me has “reportedly misrepresented how its facial recognition technology works.”

The committees requested information for all of ID.me’s government contracts, including how many facial scans it obtained, who was flagged, wait times and the number of complaints.

ID.me told the I-Team it remains a highly effective solution and that it is proud to have helped dramatically lower government benefits fraud during the pandemic.

Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani, of Orlando, has been a leader in the fight to help Floridians access unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic.

“If the federal government is expressing concern over facial recognition technology, a technology that’s not very well regulated across the country, including in Florida, then we should heed those warnings and work with our federal partners to ensure that these systems are focused on serving Floridians without concern of security breaching or private information being misused,” she said.

Eskamani is critical of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) contract with ID.me to verify people are who they say they are.

“Their persistent use of ID.me despite national feedback and concerns speaks to how little the state of Florida cares about fixing the unemployment system,” Eskamani said. “They really want to continue to perpetuate a safety net that doesn’t really exist and make it as hard as possible for people to get through, potentially putting their identity in harm’s way.”

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The DEO maintains ID.me has been essential in preventing unemployment fraud.

The agency told the I-Team: “The security of claimants’ information is a top priority” and that it is working with ID.me to assess how potentially removing the facial recognition step, which DEO has the option to do, could impact Floridians .

“The notion that a third-party company is possessing all of this private, identifying information, should raise eyebrows. And we really don’t know how ID.me was vetted or how that contract was selected,” Eskamani said. “I do think Floridians deserve answers to all of those points.”

The two House committees asked ID.me to provide information by April 28.

Full statement from ID.me
“We are proud to have helped government agencies dramatically lower government benefits fraud by organized foreign criminal gangs during the pandemic. The FTC reported identity theft tied to government benefits increased by 2,920% during the pandemic. ID.me adheres to the federal guidelines for identity verification and login while providing services to public sector agencies.These standards have proved remarkably effective at preventing fraud.Four states have credited ID.me with preventing $210 billion in fraud.”

“As noted in the Washington Post, ID.me has nearly doubled the number of people able to create an IRS account, and made it easier for “many Americans — including low income earners and minorities — to access their tax information.” ID.me remains a highly effective solution available for government agencies that provides the most access for under-served Americans.”

Full statement from DEO
“The security of claimants’ information is a top priority for the Department, and DEO is working with ID.me to assess how the new configuration will impact Reemployment Assistance claimants. DEO is dedicated to making sure that any time a new process is offered, it is thoroughly vetted.”

“Through the current process with ID.me, DEO estimated to have prevented $23 billion in potentially fraudulent payments since March 2020, after a careful review of the locked Reemployment Assistance accounts. During a careful review of the locked Reemployment Assistance accounts, DEO calculated the estimation with the following formula: the number of accounts that were locked due to fraud multiplied by the number of benefit weeks available after the account was locked. That number was then multiplied by the maximum amount of benefits that could have potentially been processed. DEO has applied standard practice identity verification methods and fraud prevention tools to all benefit programs (state and federal) and attributes the estimated $23.1 billion prevention to these efforts.

“We will follow up as more information becomes available.”

This story came from a tip. If you have something you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email kylie.mcgivern@wfts.com or call 1-866-428-NEWS.

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