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IRS is steering clear of third-party facial recognition software

Following backlash against ID.me’s use of Amazon’s controversial Rekognition technology, the Internal Revenue Service Service is dropping the system. The agency will transition over the coming weeks to avoid disruptions to taxpayers over the filing season. The two-year contract between the agency and ID.me was worth $86 million. 

The IRS aims to develop its own additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The agency also announced that it’d continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop alternative authentication methods to protect taxpayer data and “ensure broad access to online tools”.

Privacy and civil rights advocates from both major parties have objected to the use of ID.me by the IRS. While the agency wasn’t asking for facial recognition for filing tax returns, it was required for accessing services such as account information, online applications for payment plans, the Child Tax Credit Update Portal and requesting transcripts. 

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Controversial facial scanning comes to an end

Multiple representatives, including Ted Lieu, Anna Eshoo, Yvette Clarke and Pramila Jayapal, had previously raised concerns about allowing a private company to collect facial recognition, the fact that it’s a huge cybersecurity concern and the inherent bias facial recognition systems have against people of colour.

ID.me verification was already required for people creating new IRS accounts. There was a phase-in approach added later for previously created IRS accounts as well. According to IRS’ statement in November, previously made credentials would be valid until summer 2022. 

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The IRS understands the consequences of using a third-party service as a portal between taxpayers and necessary government services. According to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, “the IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised. 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.”

ID.me has some fail-safes in place as well, explaining that if the process fails, users can verify their identity over a video call with the company’s trusted referees. 

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