We acclimatize to dangerous tech creep in a series of fuck-it moments until the point at which we realize a foreseeably bad network is so pervasive, we reluctantly adopt it and move on. There was a time when social media, Amazon shopping, and home surveillance seemed optional—until they weren’t. Now in many states, you’ll have to surrender a faceprint to a private face recognition program in order to access basic government services like unemployment insurance. We’ve been here before.
CNN reports that 25 states are currently using the commercial face recognition software ID.me to verify the identities of people filing for unemployment benefits. (As of early July, 9.5 million people are unemployed throughout the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
Per the ID.me guide, claimants have to set up an ID.me account, with an email address, social security number, photo ID, and a video faceprint. ID.me clarifies that it doesn’t draw from photo databases but only matches the selfie with the user-uploaded photo ID.
ID.me says that it needs explicit consent before it shares information, so your choice here: Do you want your rent money or not? That information is only sent to government agencies, ID.me says, but it also may retain some information long-term.
The company says that you “may destroy your ID.me credential and authorized app at any time,” but adds in a footnote that “some data” related to credentials “will be retained after account deletion solely for fraud prevention and government auditing purposes.” CNN reports that ID.me may keep your biometric data for up to seven and a half years after you delete your account. ID.me co-founder Blake Hall told CNN that this is for government agencies to identify fraud.
Several states, including Colorado, Nevada, and New York explicitly require people who’ve already been collecting unemployment insurance to re-upload their documents to ID.me with a video faceprint. In an email to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Labor said the state has wholesale replaced paper documents, such as birth certificates, with ID.me verification.
In its February announcement, the state touted the technology for cutting processing time and identifying fraud. If a person’s match was unsuccessful, they can schedule a video call with one of ID.me’s “trusted referees,” and “answer a few questions.” This, too, requires internet and computer access, a barrier to an estimated half-million New York City households. And the system itself seems to be busted: Numerous people have complained about being unable to access services, waiting months for payments, waiting 6 hours on hold to talk to an ID.me representative in order to collect Child Tax Credits.
ID.me’s separate, targeted marketing operation grants third party entities “access to a network of millions of shoppers,” who, according to its site, include “verified military, student, first responder, teacher, and government users.” (In 2013, the Washington Post reported that an earlier iteration of ID.me was a service specifically to certify veterans for deals from brands such as Under Armour. The Department of Veteran Affairs now uses it to enroll veterans in its health care program.)
In addition, you may be asked to provide certain further information or documentation that we will use to verify your eligibility to receive discounts and benefits from organizations and registration authorities such as government agencies, telecommunications networks, credit card bureaus, financial institutions, or authoritative agents with access to your group affiliation credentials, military records (which may also contain Personally Identifiable Information)(collectively, “Registration Authorities”), your spouse’s or immediate family member’s social security number, military affiliation(s), dates of active and reserve duty service, and information related to your accounts with financial institutions (“Sensitive Information”).
The decision to share specific items of your Personally Identifiable Information and/or Sensitive Information with the ID.me Service or opportunities offered by Third-Party Websites which are conditioned upon certain eligibility requirements is yours and yours alone. This is also true for any Third-Party Websites in connection with your participation, if applicable, in the ID.me Cash Back Program and with certain aspects of the ID.me Service, including certain deals, cash back rewards, offers.
North Carolina’s FAQs address the elephant in the room about connecting a face print with your social security number: “Does this impact my credit score?” The answer is no, but the question hints at the fact that face recognition data is out there, at department stores and banks and police departments—organizations that don’t need more racist identification systems at their disposal.
Correction 7/28/2020 3:40 p.m. ET: ID.me responded to Gizmodo’s questions sent before publication. A previous version of this post did not clarify that ID.me uses one-to-one face verification rather than matching faces using a database. The post referred to state databases of images, but ID.me only matches user-provided images.
The post has also been updated to clarify that ID.me strongly asserts that it does not currently target its marketing campaigns to any users who’ve been compelled to sign up for legal or government ID verification.
We regret the errors.