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IRS backs down on authenticating taxpayers with facial recognition

The US Internal Revenue Service, IRS, will no longer use facial recognition services to verify taxpayers’ identities. This came after the move attracted lots of criticism.

The IRS will now cancel its contract with a third-party facial recognition services provider, ID.me, after the agreement generated controversy. The federal agency would have started using ID.me to authenticate users that log into the taxpaying website by summer this year. To achieve this, taxpayers would have been required to upload a selfie or risk being locked out of their account.

IRS proposed facial recognition as the only means of authentication but will now add a sign-in process that would not require scanning the face.

Advocates for user privacy raised the alarm over the intrusion caused by the facial recognition tech, forcing the IRS to start looking for an alternative almost immediately. The privacy concern was heightened when ID.me admitted it would use a one-to-many matching technique, contrary to its earlier denial. The CEO referred to the tech as complex and problematic but later conceded it was part of ID.me’s authentication process in some cases.

Opposers of facial authentication doubled down on the inconsistency, insisting that if the government and its contractors have to lie about it, they shouldn’t be using it.

Among those that kicked against the deal is Senator Ron Wyden, a long-time democratic privacy advocate. Just hours before the IRS announced it was scrapping the plan, Wyden published an open letter calling for the agency to do just that.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig commented that everybody should feel comfortable with how their personal information is being secured.

He then tweeted about the cancellation: “This is big: The IRS has notified my office it plans to transition away from using facial recognition verification, as I requested earlier today. While this transition may take time, the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive.”

In its blog post announcing the cancellation, the IRS writes:

“The IRS announced it will 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 in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season.

“During the transition, the IRS will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The IRS will also continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools.

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

“The transition announced today does not interfere with the taxpayer’s ability to file their return or pay taxes owed. During this period, the IRS will continue to accept tax filings, and it has no other impact on the current tax season. People should continue to file their taxes as they normally would.”

Written by HackerVibes

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