In January, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it had plans to partner with ID.me, a facial recognition “online identity network” that works to ensure security online. ID.me is the brainchild of a veteran, and in many instances, ID.me is utilized by government agencies as well as healthcare facilities.
The IRS planned to use ID.me as a third-party identity protection for IRS users accessing personal account information. Users would have had to register with ID.me to use most any of the aspects of an online tax account, with the exception of filing a tax return or making payments online. This plan was set to start taking effect this spring, with the expectation that by summer 2022, the facial recognition identification program was to be in full swing.
Although ID.me had worked diligently to assure Americans that their privacy was of the utmost importance, a growing backlash against the plan has resulted in the Internal Revenue Service backing off the idea of facial recognition to access online accounts. This decision comes after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about identity theft and privacy. Taxpayers as well as online privacy advocates also raised concerns about the plan.
On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service announced that, over the coming weeks, the agency “would transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition.”
In a statement, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said, “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.”
The initial plan involving ID.me and facial recognition would have required taxpayers to submit a video selfie to ID.me so that individuals could garner access to online accounts on the IRS.gov website.
Almost immediately, privacy advocates began to raise concerns about potential data breaches. Not only would taxpayers have to upload the video selfie to ID.me, but they would have to disclose other personal data including their social security number in addition to a copy of their photo ID. These items would be compared to the video selfie by ID.me, which would then pass along biometric data to the IRS.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington criticized the move. Lawmakers in both parties cited Americans’ right to privacy, and progressives related that some Americans were already being locked out of their IRS.gov accounts by ID.me technology. These Democrats claimed that “failures in the system’s facial recognition technology disproportionately impact people of color.”
ID.me clapped back on these criticisms; in a tweet on Monday, the company said that it utilizes “numerous tools” intended to properly identify individuals and added, “facial recognition is just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards.” The tweet also added a photo of individuals in Halloween-type masks, saying, “the identity thieves behind these masks would be much more successful.”
Comments in response to the ID.me tweet chiefly involved individuals who had experienced difficulty in accessing their accounts using facial recognition; their frustration was palpable.