I.R.S. to End Use of Facial Recognition for Identity Verification

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service plans to stop using facial recognition software to identify taxpayers accessing their accounts on the agency’s website amid concerns over privacy and data security.

The decision comes as the I.R.S. is coping with a daunting tax season, faced with backlogs of old tax returns, staffing shortages and additional complexity related to paying stimulus and child tax credits. Now, amid those challenges, the agency must change how it verifies the identity of taxpayers.

The I.R.S. said on Monday that it would “transition away” from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts. The transition will occur over the coming weeks to prevent additional disruptions to the tax filing season, which ends April 18.

At the center of the controversy is ID.me, an identity verification company that was awarded an $86 million contract by the Treasury Department last year to make taxpayer accounts more secure at a time when data leaks have been a growing concern. But the service, which requires taxpayers to take video selfies as part of the verification process, frustrated taxpayers and raised concern about the collection of sensitive biometric data.

“The I.R.S. takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” said Charles P. Rettig, the agency commissioner. “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 I.R.S. is developing another authentication process that does not involve facial recognition and is working with other agencies to creating tools to protect taxpayer data. The agency said that the change would not affect the ability of taxpayers to file their returns.

A group of Republican senators expressed alarm last week in letter to Mr. Rettig, questioning the use of the software, which they described as “intrusive.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed similar concerns in a letter to Mr. Rettig on Monday.

“I have long argued that Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy for security,” Mr. Wyden said. “The government can treat Americans with respect and dignity while protecting against fraud and identity theft.”

ID.me did not address the matter directly on Monday, but it appeared to defend itself on Twitter.

“Facial recognition is just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards,” the company said. “Without it, the identity thieves behind these masks would be much more successful.”

Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics

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