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The controversial facial recognition firm hired by the US government during the height of the pandemic is being slammed by members of Congress, who say the company misrepresented how its technology works and downplayed excessive wait times which stopped Americans from collecting unemployment benefits.New evidence shows that ID.me “inaccurately overstated its capacity to conduct identity verification services to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and made baseless claims about the amount of federal funds lost to pandemic fraud in an apparent attempt to increase demand for its identity verification services,” according to a new report from the two U.S. House of Representatives committees overseeing the government’s COVID-19 response.
The report also said that ID.me—which received $45 million in COVID relief funds from at least 25 state agencies—misrepresented the excessively long wait times it forced on people trying to claim emergency benefits like unemployment insurance and Child Tax Credit payments. Wait times for video chats were as long as 4 to 9 hours in some states.Members of Congress also wrote that ID.me provided no evidence to support a claim that unemployment fraud had cost US taxpayers $400 billion.“It is deeply disappointing that a company that received tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to help Americans obtain these benefits may have hurt their ability to access that critical relief,” Rep. James Clyburn, chairs the House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, wrote in a statement. “ID.me’s practices risked putting desperately needed relief out of reach for Americans who lack ready access to computers, smartphones, or the internet. Companies entrusted with implementing critical programs in a national crisis must be able to serve the needs of the people those programs are intended to benefit. When asked for comment, an ID.me spokesperson directed Motherboard to a statement from CEO and Founder Blake Hall, which disputed the report’s claims.“Any assertion that we made a claim about fraud to advance our business omits the fact that 43 agencies chose ID.me before the statement was ever made,” Hall wrote in a post on LinkedIn, referring to the company’s previous claims about insurance fraud.Another statement from the company also addressed the long wait times.“We worked tirelessly to serve Americans who needed aid, and we regret the long wait times that individuals endured while we fought to clear fraud out of the system,” the company wrote in the press release. “This situation was short-lived and temporary and caused by historic fraud. Excluding specific episodes, wait times have generally been below 30 minutes as they are today.”The IRS and other government agencies said they would stop using ID.me’s facial recognition tech earlier this year after widespread backlash from benefits recipients and politicians. Members of Congress later called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the company’s practices. In that letter, congress members noted inconsistencies the company had made in describing its facial recognition system, which used a massive facial recognition database to identify benefits recipients.“Not only does this violate individuals’ privacy, but the inevitable false matches associated with one-to-many recognition can result in applicants being wrongly denied desperately-needed services for weeks or even months as they try to get their case reviewed,” the letter stated.