A group of Senate Democrats is calling for the removal of facial recognition technology in verification processes for state unemployment programs.

The senators also suggested that verification services for government benefits utilize the Federal government’s login.gov portal instead of relying on privately-run systems.

In a letter sent to the Department of Labor (DOL) on Feb. 15, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged Labor Department Secretary Marty Walsh to ensure that people applying for unemployment services are not mandated to use facial recognition technology to access their benefits.

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

The lawmakers expressed their apprehensions regarding facial recognition tech, citing privacy concerns and a lack of transparency associated with private biometric technologies as invasive and potentially biased. They also noted that state agencies often outsource authentication capabilities to the private sector.

ID.me, one of the most prominent vendors in the verification space, utilizes facial recognition tech but is light on transparency about its processes and results, the senators said.  People claiming benefits, they added, often face “unacceptably long wait times for users to be screened by humans after being rejected by the company’s automated scanning system.”

The senators insisted that infrastructure driving digital identity technologies, “particularly when used to access government websites, should be run by the government.”

At the same time, the senators said they recognized that the Labor Department does not always have direct control over which technologies states decide to use, but proposed that the agency help states use services like login.gov as an alternative that does not use biometric identity verification.

“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,” they said.

The senators’ letter is the latest attempt from Capitol Hill to stop the use of facial recognition technology to access government services. Previously, House and Senate leaders urged the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Interior to end facial recognition technology usage.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.