Jan 27, 2022 - Technology

ID.me CEO apologizes for misstatements on IRS facial recognition

Illustration of a person's face under scrutiny from facial recognition technology
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The CEO of ID.me apologized Wednesday for mischaracterizing the facial recognition system the company uses to verify people's identity.

Why it matters: Civil liberties groups were already displeased that the IRS was using the private company's system, which many states have adopted as a means to fight unemployment assistance fraud.

Catch up quick: The IRS has begun requiring that taxpayers use ID.me to verify their identity before performing certain actions online. The plan was announced in November but has gained more widespread attention—and criticism—this month.

Between the lines: In interviews and printed statements, including a Sunday interview with Axios, Blake Hall described ID.me's system as purely a 1-to-1 verification in which users video selfies are compared to official documents, such as a driver's license.

  • Hall contrasted ID.me with other facial recognition systems that compare photos against a large database, such as Clearview AI. Hall likened ID.me's system to a bank teller checking photo ID when someone opens an account, a TSA check at the airport or even the Face ID system that iPhone owners can use to unlock their phones.
  • However, Hall acknowledged in a LinkedIn post on Wednesday that it also uses Amazon's Rekognition technology to compare the video selfie submitted to its own internal database of previous applicants to identify people who are applying using multiple names.
  • "I apologize for that," Hall told Axios on Wednesday. "My intent is never to mislead."

Between the lines: The disclosure came only after an ID.me employee criticized the company on an internal Slack thread for "doing one thing and saying another," as CyberScoop reported.

What they're saying: Hall insists that the process of checking against a database — disclosed to government partners but not to the public — is a key tool for fighting fraud. the CEO says only a tiny fraction of selfies submitted are flagged by the system, and even those people have a chance to prove they are who they say they are.

Yes, but: The disclosure highlights concerns already raised by civil liberties advocates around the lack of federal legislation establishing guardrails and limits on the use of facial recognition technology, which has regularly been shown to exhibit bias along race and gender lines.

  • Fight For the Future, which had previously criticized the IRS' use of the company's technology, called on the tax authority and other government agencies to halt work with ID.me.
  • "If companies and the government have to lie about facial recognition in an effort to avoid public scrutiny, they shouldn’t be using it,” Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director for Fight for the Future, said in a statement.
  • An IRS spokesperson did not immediately provide comment on whether it was taking any action with regard to the revelation.
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