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IRS Drops Facial Recognition Requirement for Tax Access After Critics Cite Privacy Issues


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has dropped its plan for Americans to submit a selfie for facial recognition verification in order to access tax records online.

The plan reportedly received a storm of criticism from members of Congress and privacy advocates.

"The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised," IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement. "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 IRS said Monday it would "transition away" from using a third-party service - a company called ID.me - for new accounts "over the coming weeks" and would develop an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition, according to The Washington Post

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), one of roughly a dozen members of Congress who had urged the IRS to halt the plan, said in a statement Monday, "I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services."

As CBN News reported last month, the IRS contracted with ID.me, a third-party service, to protect users' privacy and reduce fraud.

To verify their identity with ID.me, taxpayers would have to provide a photo of an identity document such as a driver's license, state ID, or passport. They'd also need to take a selfie with a smartphone or a computer with a webcam. After having their identity verified, they could then securely access IRS online services, the IRS explained in a November press release.

The IRS said the change was necessary to protect U.S. taxpayers from identity theft.  But as multiple news outlets reported, privacy advocates said it's too invasive, contending that the company behind ID.me has a spotty record in verifying people's identities.

Bloomberg reported the system has received numerous complaints from frustrated unemployment applicants who said they couldn't get past the verification process. 

In a January 2021 letter to the state's Employment Development Department, California state Sen. Anthony Portantino wrote that his staff had been "inundated with urgent pleas" from constituents whose benefits were on hold as a result of problems with ID.me. 

"This recent purge has put thousands of legitimate claims in limbo, with no instructions for how to get out of 'ID verification jail'," he wrote. 

The IRS has struggled to protect taxpayer data for years, as we've previously reported. Between 2011 and 2015, the IRS flagged nearly 1.1 million returns that appeared to have a stolen Social Security number, but the agency never bothered to tell the victims.

The IRS said it will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The agency will also continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools.

The government runs a separate sign-in service, Login.gov. 

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