IRS moves away from facial recognition to access online tools after backlash

The IRS will stop using facial recognition technology to help taxpayers create online accounts with the agency.

The IRS announced on Monday that it will “expeditiously develop and make live an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition,” so taxpayers can access self-help services on the IRS website. the agency.

“The IRS will also continue to work with its intergovernmental partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools,” the agency said in a statement.

The IRS changed course after recent criticism from Congress and associations that challenged the agency’s partnership with the private facial recognition service ID.me.

The agency launched the new identity verification process in November, which required taxpayers to log in with an ID.me account or create one.

The process required taxpayers to provide a photo of a government-issued document, including a driver’s license, ID card or passport, and then take a “selfie” with a smartphone or computer webcam .

Once verified, taxpayers could access IRS online services, such as the Child Tax Credit Portal, their online account or the agency’s “Get Transcript Online” feature. Taxpayers, once logged in, could also request an identity protection PIN or access an online payment agreement.

The IRS said it would allow taxpayers with existing accounts under the old login process to continue using those credentials until summer 2022.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Monday that the Treasury Department told him it was trying to get the IRS to stop using ID.me to verify IRS.gov accounts.

Wyden sent a letter earlier Monday urging the agency to reconsider its use of facial recognition technology and consider using Login.gov, a federal identity verification service already used by 40 million Americans to 200 websites from 28 agencies.

Wyden called the Treasury and IRS decision to move away from facial recognition technology a “smart move.”

“I understand that the transition process may take time, but I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive and that no one should have to undergo facial recognition to access to essential government services,” Wyden said.

Last week, lawmakers repeatedly pressed the IRS for more details about its use of facial technology, or demanded that the agency end its use of such tools.

Last Thursday, 15 Senate Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee told the IRS they were deeply concerned about its partnership with ID.me, noting that federal agencies, including the IRS, “have a unfortunate history of data breaches”.

Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent a letter last Thursday urging the IRS to “immediately halt” all programs that use any type of biometric data to identify taxpayers.

Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, also sent a letter to the IRS, asking the agency for more details on how it would protect this sensitive biometric data. and if she had consulted the Federal Trade. Commission or the National Institute of Standards and Technology initiating this partnership.

The IT Acquisition Advisory Council, a group of senior government and industry executives, has warned that requiring taxpayers to take a selfie for online help raises privacy concerns and would create a disadvantage for taxpayers who do not have access to a smartphone, or who do not feel comfortable giving their biometric information to a third-party provider to access government services.

“Not only does this decision create an unprecedented privacy issue, it also allows for the possibility that personally identifiable information may be harvested and then used for commercial purposes for profit,” the association wrote.

The association has also raised concerns about the reliability and trustworthiness of facial recognition technology to verify someone’s identity online. He also urged the IRS to take advantage of Login.gov, an identity verification platform already used by several agencies.

“The public deserves answers to this legitimate question, especially when login.gov is a viable option currently in use and a platform where the government is the custodian of the personal information citizens provide, as opposed to a for-profit corporation. lucrative third party”, writes the association.

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Yvette Clarke (DN.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), in their own letter to the IRS, challenged the the vendor’s inconsistent claims about whether it used “one-to-many facial recognition”, which compares a facial image to many other similar images in a database.

“Given these issues, it is simply wrong to force millions of Americans to trust this new protocol,” the lawmakers wrote.

A spokesperson for ID.me referred to the IRS for “any questions on this matter,” and a spokesperson for the Treasury Department referred to the IRS statement on Monday.

Melvin G. Rodriguez