Senators call for removal of facial recognition tech in unemployment services

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The lawmakers asked the Department of Labor to help state unemployment agencies remove facial recognition technology from application forms. 

In the latest battle between Capitol Hill and facial recognition technology, several lawmakers penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure state unemployment programs use secure methods to verify applicants without the use of biometric software. 

Stemming from the Internal Revenue Service’s ID.me facial recognition controversy, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, cosigned a letter urging Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to ensure people applying for unemployment claims are not mandated to use facial recognition technology to access state benefits. 

The signatories cite privacy concerns and a lack of transparency associated with private biometric technologies as invasive and potentially biased. 

“Facial recognition should not be a prerequisite for accessing UI or any other essential government services,” the letter reads. “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.”

Lawmakers instead propose that the Labor department help state governments use services like logic.gov as an alternative that does not use biometric identity verification. 

“While we recognize that DOL does not always have direct control over which technologies states decide to use, you can lead on this issue by providing states with solutions that both guard against fraud and protect the privacy of Americans seeking unemployment compensation,” the letter concludes. 

ID.me and other facial recognition technologies became popular in the wake of increasing fraud and identity theft crimes. While this software effectively safeguard sensitive user information, little legislation governs its usage, and concerns have been raised over user privacy and room for racial bias

Despite pushback from civil liberties advocates, several public agencies have pushed to adopt the technology. Lawmakers are now writing for the technology to be excluded from applying for critical public services. 

If facial recognition software is used on public websites, lawmakers insist that public officials control it. 

“Quite simply, the infrastructure that powers digital identity, particularly when used to access government websites, should be run by the government, and certainly not a company with a track record of misleading the public,” the letter reads. 

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