Reps. Maloney and Clyburn begin investigation by face-scanning company

House lawmakers on Thursday launched an investigation into the effectiveness and security of identity verification after public authorities’ use of the software to identify people who gained access to tax records and unemployment assistance led to a rapid expansion of face recognition in American everyday life.

In a comprehensive 10-page letter to CEO Blake Hall, lawmakers requested that the company provide detailed records of its contracts with federal, state and local authorities, as well as answer questions about how it investigates potential inaccuracies in its systems. Lawmakers wrote about “serious concerns” about 10 federal agencies and 30 state governments that have contracted with, questioning the accuracy of the face recognition service and reports of long delays in using the service to access pandemic assistance.

The letter, which was viewed exclusively by The Washington Post, was written by leaders of the House Oversight Committee, which monitors potential misappropriation of taxpayers’ funds, and the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, led by House Majority Leader James E. Clyburn. The joint effort reflects lawmakers’ concerns about the government’s use of the software. The IRS used to enable taxpayers to access their records, while states used the service to verify the identities of persons seeking pandemic unemployment assistance.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that she hopes the investigation leads to “more transparency and accountability” in the government’s use of face recognition.

“Without clear traffic rules, agencies will continue to turn to companies like, increasing the risk that essential services will not be fairly provided to Americans, or will be directly denied, and that their biometric data will not be properly protected. , ”Said Maloney.

The IRS plan to scan your face is provoking anger in Congress, confusion among taxpayers

The investigation follows stories in The Post that raise concerns about the system’s accuracy, technical errors and long delays.

No federal law regulates the use of face recognition or specifies how the technology is to be secured to protect privacy. The House’s investigation is an escalation of years of controversy over the government’s growing reliance on face recognition, which boiled over this year after the IRS said it would require Americans to scan their faces to access their tax accounts.

Government agencies have increasingly relied on face recognition despite warnings from the General Services Administration that the technology has too many problems to justify its use. The House held hearings in 2019, highlighting bipartisan concerns about face recognition, but efforts to pass legislation restricting its use have largely stalled.

Following complaints from members of Congress, taxpayers and privacy advocates, the IRS dropped its plans, announcing that they would “transition” from using the service. subsequently said it would drop the face recognition requirement for all federal and state agencies.

Technology 202: House hearing highlights lack of oversight of face recognition technology and the IRS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legislators ‘letter to underscores how little is known about the extent of governments’ use of face recognition and the accuracy of services. Lawmakers requested that the company report how many people completed the process to authenticate their identity to access public services, and how many were denied. The letter also asks about the service’s average waiting time and details about companies’ storage of biometric data related to public contracts.

In February, the company said the 73 million people who had used its service would be able to delete their selfies or photo data.

The legislators’ letter also reflects their concerns about the company’s contracts with the IRS. Maloney sent a letter to the IRS in February revealing that the agency had referred 7 million people to the facial recognition provider, demanding answers on how the agency would help people delete their data and how much it would cost. IRS to terminate its $ 86 million contract with

In a response seen by The Post, the IRS said so it would require to delete all selfies and face videos that it had received by March 11 and would not notify users of this process. The Agency has not indicated any plans to terminate its contract with, noting that its contract allows it at no additional cost.

The IRS instructed 7 million Americans to sign up for facial scan service, according to the congressional letter

Lawmakers also say there are justice issues with requiring to access key public services – especially for the elderly and low-income people who may not have access to a smartphone or laptop and who may need public assistance most intrusive. As of 2021, about 15 percent of U.S. adults did not own smartphones, and 23 percent did not own desktops or laptops, according to data the letter quotes from Pew.

“The process creates disproportionate barriers for older individuals who may face challenges in using new technology, rural and low-income residents without high-speed Internet access, and households sharing technological equipment for school, teleworking or job search.”

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