Feb 10, 2022
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IRS will transition away from facial recognition after wave of criticism

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A hot potato: Privacy advocates have managed to convince lawmakers that the IRS shouldn’t use a facial recognition system such as ID.me due to concerns about privacy, identity protections, and unequal access to reliable broadband in the US. Other agencies and public institutions still use the technology, but there is an ongoing campaign to curb its use called DumpID.me.
The Treasury Department recently announced it would reconsider the Internal Revenue Service’s use of ID.me for providing access to its website. The agency explained to Senator Ron Wyden that it plans to drop the use of facial recognition tech for verification purposes. The rollback will happen gradually over the coming weeks in order to minimize disruptions during the tax filing season.
The IRS originally intended to make a full transition to ID.me this summer as part of an effort to improve the security of its website for taxpayers when they access their tax accounts online. However, that plan quickly fell apart after ID.me CEO Blake Hall said his company uses a complex one-to-many facial matching technique and also checks faces against those of known criminals.Critics and privacy advocates like the ACLU have repeatedly warned that facial recognition systems are prone to racial and gender biases, and called into question the security of the stored biometric data. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said the new system was essentially a fraud and data leak prevention tool, but now the agency is “quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition.”
As for ID.me, the company says it will offer its government agency customers the ability to make the verification system optional for people who don’t want to submit a selfie. Additionally, starting March 1 people will be able to delete their selfie from the company’s database if they wish to do so.
Overall, this is a major win for people who are worried about federal use of facial recognition technology and especially those who don’t have access to reliable broadband. Meanwhile, people like campaign director at Fight for the Future Caitlin Seeley George are calling for a similar transition away from ID.me for other federal agencies like the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Affairs Administration, as well as 30 states that currently use it on people who are trying to access unemployment benefits.
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