New Identity Authentication Requirement for Unemployment Spreads Across the Country

August 6, 2021 Updated: August 10, 2021

Pennsylvania now requires individuals filing for unemployment compensation to prove their identity before receiving payments.

In an effort to prevent fraudulent claims which have plagued the online unemployment system, Pennsylvania has hired ID.me, a McLean, Virginia-based company, to authenticate users.

Since 2020, some 27 states have hired ID.me for unemployment verification, including Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

“We are also now under contract with an additional two states. ID.me Spokesman Nicholas Michael told The Epoch Times. “Our federal partners include the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration.”

Unemployment applicants in these states must submit to a new, more invasive level of vetting to receive payments.

ID.me’s online authentication process begins with a request for permission to use details from the user’s credit profile and other public sources. Soon after that, the system requires users to consent to ID.me collecting their Social Security number and biometric data. The user cannot continue the process or receive unemployment without consenting.

The fine print explains ID.me may collect facial biometrics and voiceprints.

Users upload an image of a driver’s license or passport, and a current “selfie” image taken with their smartphone. In some cases, a video selfie is used.

“We use these images to create a facial geometry or faceprint which we use for purposes of identity verification and to prevent the fraudulent creation of multiple accounts in a fraudulent manner,” the agreement explains.

Users may also be required to call ID.me and leave a voice recording that is used to create a voiceprint. “We use this voiceprint for identity verification and to prevent the creation of multiple ID.me accounts in a fraudulent manner,” the agreement explains.

Collecting Biometric Data

ID.me stores a user’s biometric data for use up to seven and a half years after they stop using the service, the agreement says. Users may ask ID.me to delete their biometric data, but the company may decline the request in some cases.

“ID.me will never share your biometric data with a third party except to protect you or others from identity theft,” the consent agreement says.

However, the agreement also says ID.me can share biometric data with its clients such as the Department of Labor and Industry to process unemployment claims, plus third-party service providers and “other third parties where permitted by law, to enforce the terms, to comply with legal obligations or applicable, to respond to legal process (such as a subpoena, warrant or civil discovery request), to cooperate with law enforcement agencies concerning conduct or activity that we reasonably and in good faith believes may violate federal, state, or local law, and to prevent harm, loss or injury to others.”

Batches of digital files containing the personal information of each person authenticated by ID.me are regularly sent to the state. The files contain an individual’s full name, email address, phone number, Social Security number, date of birth, street address, city, state, postal code, gender, and a unique identifier.

ID.me tracks the IP address, town, and time when users interact with the company.

Where Is the Information Going?

“It’s overbroad and absurd considering the limited purpose the verification is supposed to further,” Jeff Schott, a labor and civil rights attorney at the Scaringi Law Firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, told The Epoch Times. “To me, it’s wrong because you are entitled to those benefits and you have to agree to their terms, which exceed what is needed for the purpose for ID verification.”

Schott says the law firm has fielded numerous calls about ID.me from Pennsylvanians applying for unemployment. The complaints generally fall into one of two categories.

Some are people who are not computer savvy and through the pandemic, have been laid off for the first time in their lives. They need help navigating ID.me and worry about submitting to facial recognition and handing their Social Security number over to a third-party company.

“They want to know and where all this information is going and where it is stored,” Schott said. “Since COVID, people are more in tune with government intrusion in their lives, for obvious reasons.”

Other folks are calling the law firm complaining ID.me rejected them, even though their information was legitimate.

If there is a problem, ID.me says cases will be handled on a video conference by a “trusted referee,” but Schott said some clients have told him that the video conference never happened, others told him ID.me’s trusted referees seemed more hostile than helpful, acting as if they were speaking with a fraudster instead of helping them solve the problem.

About 90 percent of people verify their identity through the automated process in about five minutes, Michael said. Applicants’ selfie photo or video is compared to the photo on their passport or driver’s license through facial recognition.

“If the individual takes a blurry, or cut off image of their face three times, or uploads documents that have issues, we offer a live video chat session—similar to a Zoom call—with a live agent,” Michael said. “The individual can finish the verification process that way. No one is blocked by this step.”

People who do not have a presence in records, are recent immigrants, or have no credit history have difficulty proving their identity online, he said.

“ID.me is the only vendor in the country that offers identity verification through a video chat with one of our trusted referees,” Michael said.

Pennsylvania first engaged with ID.me through an $800,000, one-year contract to authenticate Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applicants from September 2020-September 2021.

In late July, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry informed applicants of regular (not pandemic-related) unemployment that they are required to verify their identity through ID.me to start or continue receiving payments.

There is likely another contract to cover this new service but the Department of Labor and Industry was unable to produce it or say how much it is paying ID.me.

Labor and Industry Spokeswoman Sarah DeSantis told The Epoch Times ID.me is subcontracted through Geographic Solutions, the company that manages the state’s online unemployment system, which was recently updated. But a Geographic Solutions spokesman told The Epoch Times the contract is between ID.me and the state.

“We’ll have to defer to Pennsylvania L&I for information about the contract,” ID.me Spokesman Nicholas Michael said.

Ultimately, neither ID.me nor the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry would provide a contract or disclose the cost of this service.

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: