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IRS says it won’t force Americans to use facial recognition technology

A VeriScan facial recognition tablet takes photo of airline passenger at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Sept. 6, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/ Flickr)
February 22, 2022

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced on Monday that it will not require facial recognition to verify users’ identities in order to gain access to their accounts. The decision comes after the agency faced backlash for its use of biometric data, raising concerns over users’ privacy rights.

“The IRS announced today that a new option in the agency’s authentication system is now available for taxpayers to sign up for IRS online accounts without the use of any biometric data, including facial recognition,” the IRS said in a statement.

The IRS’s statement went on to highlight how the agency is staying true to its commitment made earlier this month to “transition away” from the use of a third-party facial recognition service. The IRS asserted that the facial-recognition system was designed “to help authenticate people creating new online accounts,” but the transition out of using the facial recognition system will take place over the coming weeks “in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season.”

The IRS said taxpayers will be able to verify their identities during live, virtual interviews with agents, adding that “no biometric data – including facial recognition – will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview.”

While not required, taxpayers will still have the option to “verify their identity automatically through the use of biometric verification through ID.me’s self-assistance tool if they choose.”

“For taxpayers who select this option, new requirements are in place to ensure images provided by taxpayers are deleted for the account being created. Any existing biometric data from taxpayers who previously created an IRS Online Account that has already been collected will also be permanently deleted over the course of the next few weeks,” the IRS’ statement continued.

The agency’s earlier commitment to discontinue the facial recognition requirement came on the same day Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the agency, calling on them to stop using the facial recognition service.

“While the IRS had the best of intentions — to prevent criminals from accessing Americans’ tax records, using them to commit identity theft, and make off with other people’s tax refunds, it is simply unacceptable to force Americans to submit to scans using facial recognition technology as a condition of interacting with the government online, including to access essential government programs,” Wyden wrote.

Wyden argued that in addition to privacy and civil liberties concerns, “the infrastructure that powers digital identity, particularly when used to access government websites, should be run by the government.”