IRS doesn't completely scrap facial recognition, just makes it optional

But hey, new rules on deleting your selfies


America's Internal Revenue Service has confirmed taxpayers will not be forced to use facial recognition to verify their identity. The agency also set out rules for which images will be deleted.

Folks setting up an online IRS account will be given the choice of providing biometric data to an automated system, or speaking with a human agent in a video call, to authenticate. Those who are comfortable with facial recognition tech can upload a copy of their photo ID and then be authenticated by their selfie, and those who aren't can talk to someone to prove they are who they say they are. An online IRS account can be used to view tax documents and the status of payments among other things.

"Taxpayers will have the option of verifying their identity during a live, virtual interview with agents; no biometric data – including facial recognition – will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview," the IRS said in a statement on Monday.

"Taxpayers will still have the option to verify their identity automatically through the use of biometric verification through ID.me's self-assistance tool if they choose. For taxpayers who select this option, new requirements are in place to ensure images provided by taxpayers are deleted for the account being created."

The option to avoid providing biometric data for identity verification was added after the IRS faced a backlash when it announced plans to roll out an automated facial-recognition system built by third-party company ID.me. Experts warned the technology could be unreliable for women and people of color. Democrat and Republican politicians opposed the move, too.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) successfully lobbied the federal government earlier this month to halt the roll out of ID.me's facial recognition software. "The Treasury Department has made the smart decision to direct the IRS to transition away from using the controversial ID.me verification service, as I requested," Wyden said in a statement.

The IRS has confirmed that biometric data provided, such as photographs for facial recognition, will be deleted.

"New requirements are in place to ensure images provided by taxpayers are deleted for the account being created. Any existing biometric data from taxpayers who previously created an IRS Online Account that has already been collected will also be permanently deleted over the course of the next few weeks," the IRS said.

ID.me said all selfies and biometric data will be automatically deleted by March 11 for taxpayers if they provided the data before March 10. For people who provide images or other forms of biometric data after March 11, the data will be deleted within 24 hours.

"ID.me is an identity verification company. Our capabilities extend well beyond facial recognition. We have thousands of customer support agents who verify people through video chat," a company spokesperson told The Register. "ID.me believes in choice. Our customers and the public asked for more options to choose the verification pathway that works best for them. We moved swiftly to accommodate those requests."

The IRS also said it was working closely with other government agencies to use Login.Gov as an online authentication tool. Login.gov is used by multiple agencies to and does not require facial recognition. ®


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