Bloomberg: IRS to End Use of Facial Recognition to Access Tax Accounts
The Internal Revenue Service will stop using controversial facial-recognition software for taxpayers trying to access online tax accounts over concerns about privacy and security.
The transition from the ID.me, the third-party verification system that required taxpayers to upload video selfies to access their tax information online, will begin in the coming weeks, the IRS said Monday. The IRS said it would add additional verification tools that don’t involve facial recognition, but didn’t specify how those would work.
The use of the software has been the subject of bipartisan criticism from lawmakers in recent weeks because of concerns about privacy as well as questions about racial bias embedded in the program.
“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 Monday. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition.”
The IRS said the tax filing season, which began last month and runs until April 18 for most taxpayers, would not be hindered by the transition away from using ID.me.
The decision was immediately praised by Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, who sent a letter to the IRS earlier Monday asking them to discontinue the use of the program.
“I understand the transition process may take time, but I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services,” Wyden said in a statement after the IRS announcement.
Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, also welcomed the change and called the IRS use of such software “garbage.”
“The IRS has absolutely no business requiring facial recognition software on anything — but especially not when it comes to allowing Montana taxpayers to access services,” he said in a tweet.
Several key Republican senators, including Mike Crapo, also had launched an inquiry into how the IRS was using ID.me.
The IRS website last year began requiring taxpayers to use ID.me to access personalized information about eligibility for expanded child tax credits funded by President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief program, the American Rescue Plan, among other services. The agency had planned to expand use of ID.me to all taxpayers later this year.
Research has shown that AI-driven facial recognition software often makes mistakes with darker-skinned people. That identified bias in the technology has prompted activists to call for law enforcement agencies to abandon using it altogether.
ID.me says it has verified the identities of some 70 million people. Those numbers grew rapidly as a result of its work for 27 states processing unemployment claims during the pandemic and helping combat fraud. Several other federal entities, including the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, also use the technology.
But ID.me has faced complaints that its software has resulted in innocent claimants being flagged for fraud. Many users have also struggled with ID.me’s process.
The company, which has been criticized for not being transparent about what sort of facial recognition technology it uses, last month said it kept a database of users’ images against which it compared new selfies. ID.me relies on controversial Amazon technology as part of its system.