IRS Drops Facial Recognition Plan

Agency is suspending use of private company for identity verification
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2022 7:35 PM CST
IRS Drops Facial Recognition Plan
The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The IRS is backing away from what some critics saw as another step toward a dystopian future: a plan to have a private company use facial recognition to verify taxpayers' identities. The agency, which was facing a backlash from lawmakers from both parties, along with the ACLU and other privacy advocates, said Monday that it plans to "transition away" from the service, which required users to create "video selfies" to authenticate accounts, the Washington Post reports. "The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised," said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

"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," Rettig said. The agency is working on an authentication method that doesn't involve facial recognition, the New York Times reports. The IRS says the shift won't affect this year's tax season. Critics including Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had called the move unacceptably intrusive and warned that the data collected by the service could be misused or stolen.

Wyden praised the "smart decision" Monday after the IRS announced use of the service had been suspended. "No one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services," he said, per the AP. It's not clear what effect the IRS move will have on the other federal and state agencies that require users to go through what the ACLU calls the "time-consuming, inaccessible, and privacy-invasive gauntlet" of verification. Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, tells the Times that the IRS' backtracking should be a "strong cautionary tale for any other government agencies thinking facial recognition is an easy or quick solution." (More Internal Revenue Service stories.)

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