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IRS Abandons Creepy Facial Recognition Tool

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Privacy advocates can breathe at least a little bit easier: the IRS has backtracked its decision to require all IRS website users to register with third-party identification platform ID.me. Originally announced in November 2021 to take effect the next year, the IRS faced significant backlash from critics for its planned use of facial recognition software.

As a result, taxpayers will no longer need to verify their identities through ID.me in order to use the IRS website portal, potentially lengthening what may prove to be an already long tax filing season.

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ID.me: A Closer Look

ID.me is a digital identification platform used to securely verify your identity online. The IRS previously partnered with ID.me in a limited capacity, with the full rollout planned for summer 2022, and as many as 26 states currently use the service to verify identities for unemployment services.

The process that ID.me uses is straightforward and relatively user-friendly: you sign up for an account, upload a photo of your government-issued photo ID, take a video of yourself and link the ID.me account to whichever services you need to access.

Behind the scenes, however, ID.me employs a complex facial recognition software that matches your selfie video to your photo ID. The company then stores this information on its secured servers, and you are able to use online services that usually require in-person ID verification.

IRS Facial Recognition Backlash: What Happened?

irs facial recognitionFacial recognition software has been mired in controversy since its inception. Although a number of federal and state agencies have utilized ID.me for some time now, the IRS’ decision to require ID.me accounts for every portal user caused the technology to come under increased scrutiny.

ID.me claims to use a technology called 1:1 face match, which essentially is the digital version of going to a government office and an official checking that you are the same person in your photo ID. Despite this, an article by Cyberscoop indicated that ID.me actually employs a 1:many face match technology, which stores your image in a database to check against many other stored images. ID.me CEO Blake Hall later confirmed this, stating the technology “exists to make sure a single user is not registering multiple identities” for identity fraud.

There are other issues too. Not only does ID.me store your image for future cross-checking, researchers have long noted that facial recognition software at large does not always correctly identify users. A 2018 “Gender Shades Project” found that darker-toned women, as well as non-gender identifying individuals, are misidentified 8% to 20% more frequently than lighter-skinned males, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology confirmed that the incidence of false positives were highest among American Indians, African Americans, the elderly, and young children.

Additionally, ID.me’s terms of service grant the company the right to share collected data with the police, government, and select partners. Insider reported that authorities could easily tap your personal data, including citizenship for those who use their passports as their photo ID, voiceprints and more. Although ID.me does store your data on encrypted servers to prevent illegal access, the company still maintains the right to share it.

Then, of course, there is the problem of actually registering with ID.me. The IRS services all American taxpayers, but not all taxpayers have access to a smartphone with a camera or a computer with a webcam. By requiring IRS portal users to register with ID.me, the IRS could be unintentionally restricting access to these services, which would disproportionately affect both the elderly and lower-income households.

Indeed, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to the IRS on Monday, February 7, 2022, arguing that “Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy for security” and that “the agency should not require facial recognition for any of the other important services it provides taxpayers.”

The IRS later announced a rollback of its expected ID.me account requirements.

How to Access IRS Portal Services Now

The IRS does not require taxpayers to file returns through a registered ID.me account, and it did not plan to do so. The rollback of its ID.me registration requirement will not affect your ability to file your tax returns.

However, the agency did state that it would take several weeks to transition away from using ID.me as its verification platform. As an intermediary measure the IRS will be implementing a yet-to-be-developed authorization system that does not use facial recognition.

In the meantime, if you have an existing account with the IRS, you can use your Secure Access username and password to access online services. If you have an existing account with ID.me from a state government or federal agency, you can still access the online portal as before.

The Bottom Line

irs facial recognitionUnder pressure from facial recognition software critics and the U.S. Congress, the IRS has rolled back its previously-announced requirement for ID.me account verification. The ID.me accounts did not impact your ability to file taxes, but concerns about privacy and discrimination have resulted in a change in approach.

You will still be able to file your taxes without any problems, but if you need to check your Child Tax Credit Payments or COVID-19-Related Tax Credits, there may be lingering confusion as the IRS transitions away from ID.me, and you may experience some technical difficulties while trying to access the IRS online portal.

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Photo credit: ©iStock.com/dem10, ©iStock.com/VioletaStoimenova, ©iStock.com/Michael Burrell