On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that American taxpayers will be able to eschew facial recognition software for accessing their online accounts. The facial recognition decision emerges in the aftermath of significant controversy that had plagued the federal agency’s potential use of biometric data, as reported by the New York Times.
Earlier this month, the IRS indicated that it will “transition away” from ID.me, which is a service that is utilized to authenticate the identities of taxpayers after they set up online accounts. Though the IRS started utilizing the software in order to improve security, as well as to avoid the leaking of user data, legislators and activists have noted that facial recognition software violates the privacy of taxpayers, as they would need to provide a photo of themselves in order to verify their accounts.
According to the IRS in an official statement, “no biometric data” will be required if U.S. taxpayers opt to authenticate their identity via virtual interviews instead. This “biometric data” would include facial recognition technology.
Additionally, over the next several weeks, photos acquired from users will be removed from the servers of ID.me over the next several weeks. Any new photos taken over the course of this year will also not be stored on the servers of the company.
Furthermore, ID.me also provided new options for federal agencies to utilize in order to verify the identities of taxpayers without relying upon facial recognition technology. The company added that users will be able to start deleting all their photos, beginning in March.
According to Blake Hall, the CEO of ID.me, the company has “listened to the feedback about facial recognition,” which is why it has decided to “[make] this important change.”
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department had no comment for the New York Times in response to the federal agency’s contract with ID.me in the future.
Several Democrat senators sent a letter to Charles Rettig, the IRS commissioner, earlier in the month, requesting for him to provide American taxpayers with information to help guide them through deleting the photos they took for the facial recognition system at ID.me. The Democrats also requested for the information to web provided in multiple languages, underscoring their concern regarding the use of facial recognition technology.
“Congress has repeatedly expressed concern with the development of an unconstrained and pervasive surveillance infrastructure,” the Democrat senators declared, adding that this surveillance is “fueled by systems like ID.me.”
“The use of this type of technology often plays an outsized role in law enforcement investigations,” the senators continued, “despite serious flaws that can lead to wrongful arrests and civil rights violations.”