will make facial recognition optional for federal agencies

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In a major turn of events, embattled identity verification firm said it would make facial recognition verification optional for all of its public sector government partners. Additionally, starting March 1, the company says all users will be able to delete their face scans.

This reversal comes just a day after the Internal Revenue Service announced that it to give up’s facial recognition service for users trying to access IRS services online in the middle of a effusion criticism from civil liberty groups and a bipartisan body of lawmakers.

“We’ve listened to feedback on facial recognition and are making this important change, adding an option for users to verify directly with a human agent to ensure consumers have even more choice and control over their data. personal”, fFounder and CEO Blake Hall said in a statement.

In the past, users would submit a face scan to verify their identity against a government document. If’s system failed to validate this analysis, users would then join a recorded video call with an representative called a “trusted arbitrator”. In the future, it appears that all users attempting to access public sector government partners will be able to use a similar method of human identity verification without first submitting a facial scan. In some cases, users can also opt for in-person verification if the relevant agency has opted for’s offline option.

“ is an identity verification company, not a biometrics company,” the company said in its press release.

The change comes as several privacy groups, including Fight for the Future and the American Civil Liberties Union, have called on other government agencies to follow the IRS’ lead and drop the recognition service. face of

While the policy change is likely good news for some who have criticized’s use of biometrics, other privacy experts, such as Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn , remained skeptical.

“It’s too little too late,” Fox Cahn told Gizmodo. “If agrees that facial recognition is too invasive for some customers, why can’t they agree that it’s bad for all Americans? And if they had this alternative option all along, why did they rely on biometric tracking to begin with? » found itself in the hot seat several weeks ago after Hall revealed that the company was, in some cases, using a more extensive type of facial recognition technology than previously known. Lawmakers began exposing the IRS’ relationship with last week, starting with a letter sent by Republican senators on the finance committee, which called on the IRS to cut ties with

“The decision millions of Americans are being forced to make is whether to pay the price of handing over their most personal information, biometrics, to an outside contractor or reverting to the age of a bureaucracy on paper where information travels slowly, is inaccurate, and some would argue is treated inconsistently with contemporary life,” the senators wrote.

days later, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden wrote his own letter to the IRS Commissioner urging the IRS to end its use of facial recognition which he called “unacceptable”. Hours after Wyden’s letter, the IRS issued a declaration saying he would abandon the use of’s facial recognition.

Now, the way forward remains murky at best. In an email to Gizmodo, ACLU Racial Justice Project staff attorney Olga Akselrod welcomed the announcement of, but said, but there were still many unanswered questions.

“States have yet to procure the offline options and it’s not entirely clear how the offline option of will work or what it entails,” Akselrod said. “We don’t yet know what additional hurdles people opting out of biometrics will have to jump through, what opinion people will have about the removal, or when the company will release more information about what its 1:many video research entails. “


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