IRS scrapping facial recognition plan after widespread backlash

IRS to require taxpayers to use facial recognition to access sensitive documents

IRS to require use of facial recognition software to access government documents. FOX Business’ Gerri Willis with more.

The Internal Revenue Service has agreed to abandon its plan requiring taxpayers to verify their identity through facial recognition technology provided by a private company, after privacy advocates, taxpayers, and lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle condemned the agency, citing for various concerns over the practice.

A man enters the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg / Getty Images)

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The IRS announced Monday that over the coming weeks it would "transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition," after the agency had raised alarms by contracting with technology provider ID.me to handle its taxpayer verification process using facial recognition.

"The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised," IRS Commissioner Chuck 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."

Charles P. Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the IRS budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 8, 2021. (TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The IRS introduced the facial recognition plan last month, and planned for full implementation this summer. The plan would require taxpayers to provide a video selfie to ID.me in order to access their accounts on the agency's website. 

Privacy advocates immediately cried foul, raising concerns about potential data breaches given that users would provide ID.me with personal information such as their Social Security number and an image of their photo ID – which would be compared to the selfie.

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Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike slammed the IRS for requiring facial recognition at all, citing Americans' right to privacy, while some progressives raised the added concerns over reports that ID.me technology was locking folks out of their IRS accounts already and that failures in the system's facial recognition technology disproportionately impact people of color.

ID.me defended itself in a tweet Monday saying that it uses "numerous tools" for identity verification and that "facial recognition is just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards." The post included images of individuals wearing masks, and added that without facial recognition, "the identity thieves behind these masks would be much more successful."

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The handful of Twitter users who responded largely hit out at the company in reaction to the post, venting frustration over their experience using the system when trying to access their IRS accounts.

FOX Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report.

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