IRS Will Scrap Facial Recognition Plan After Outcry

The agency said it will transition to another new online verification process

nfrared attendance machine, a machine with face recognition, attendance clocking, and infrared temperature measurement.
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Weiquan Lin

The IRS has axed its plan requiring taxpayers to upload a “selfie” with a third-party company to gain access to the agency’s online tools following criticism by lawmakers and privacy advocates.

Instead, the agency will “quickly” develop an additional online authentication process that does not involve facial recognition, the IRS said in a statement on Monday. The transition to a new verification process will occur over the coming weeks to prevent disruptions to taxpayers during filing season, it said. The agency said the transition won’t affect people’s ability to file their taxes and they should continue to do so as usual.  

In an effort to prevent fraud, the IRS in November asked taxpayers creating new online accounts to sign on with an ID.me account to gain secure access to tools and applications including transcripts, online payment agreements, and the child tax credit update portal. But to get an ID.me account, taxpayers had to verify their identity with the company using a photo of an identity document such as a driver's license, state ID, or passport, as well as a “selfie” taken with a smartphone or computer webcam.  This immediately raised eyebrows because of privacy issues, the IRS’ dependence on a private company to hold sensitive information, and known bias issues facial recognition has had in the past with people of color, women, and older adults.

Reached for comment, an ID.me spokesperson said, “We would refer you to the IRS with any questions on this issue.”

In a letter sent to the IRS on Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden said it’s “simply unacceptable to force Americans to submit to scans using facial recognition technology as a condition of interacting with the government online.”

Instead, Wyden recommended that the agency transition to an existing government identity verification service, Login.gov, which does not use facial recognition technology. He noted that Login.gov is already used by 40 million Americans to access 200 websites run by 28 federal agencies, and suggested allowing people to verify their identities in person at post offices and veterans affairs locations.

"The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement.

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Medora at medoralee@thebalance.com.

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