Selfies No Longer Needed to File Taxes Online This Year

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Selfies No Longer Needed to File Taxes Online This Year

By Miracle Amo

On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will suspend the use of private facial-recognition technology, after receiving bipartisan criticism over privacy concerns.[1] This decision came months after the IRS announced the launch of its “improved” identity verification and sign-in process last November.”[2]

In a November 17th press release, the agency had announced its plan to transition into a verification process that would eventually require all taxpayers utilizing certain online services to provide identification verification through ID.me software.[3]

ID.me is a private company that was formerly known as TroopSwap— a site that provided daily deals and retail discounts to veterans, service members, and their families.[4] As TroopSwap, the company launched Troop ID, an authentication tool that allowed military members and their families to access deals through the verification of military identification.[5] In 2013, the company changed its name to ID.me and started to market its verification services more broadly.[6] Last year, ID.me obtained a $86 million contract with the IRS.[7] This deal, in addition to the widespread use of their ID verification services to more than half of all state unemployment agencies, has allowed the company to experience growth during the pandemic.[8] According to ID.me, they serve “27 states, multiple federal agencies, and over 500 name brand retailers.”[9]

Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have expressed concern about ID.me’s deal with IRS.[10] Last week, Senate Republicans sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. In it they wrote, “[w]hile we understand the IRS’s use of ID.me is intended to protect data and reduce fraud, we have serious concerns about how ID.me may affect confidential taxpayer information and fundamental civil liberties.”[11] This week, Democrats also wrote to Mr. Rettig, urging the agency to pause its use of facial-recognition technology for taxpayers logging into their IRS accounts, citing concerns over privacy, data security, and access for people without internet access.[12]

ID.me performs identification verification by asking users to upload their personal information, including their Social Security number, a selfie, and pictures of a government-issued ID.[13] It then uses facial recognition and “liveness detection” on the pictures, to compare the submitted information to data from “telecommunications networks, credit card bureaus, financial institutions,” and other sources, according to its privacy policy.[14] If there is a match, an account is created that uses image recognition for identification. If there are any errors or if a match is not found, users have the option of contacting a “trusted referee” who will help with the problem.[15]

ID.me collects a large amount of personal information. The company states in its privacy policy that it will “access, preserve and share” personal information with law enforcement if asked.[16] “We reserve the right to disclose your Personally Identifiable Information as required by law and when we believe that disclosure is necessary to protect you, our rights and/or comply with a judicial proceeding, court order, or legal process,” ID.me writes.[17] While the company claims to not part with most personal information, various information about user’s internet use and website visits is still sent to other partners. Critics warn that, without sufficient guardrails, information collected by one agency for a seemingly benign purpose could easily be re-used in other ways.[18]

In Monday’s press release, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated, “The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised. 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.”[19] While it is not clear what those short-term options may be, one thing remains true: whether you’re filing your taxes by hand, through mail or by a tax preparer, this year’s deadline to file taxes (for most) is April 18, 2022.[20]

[1] Richard Rubin, IRS Retreats from Facial Recognition to Verify Taxpayers’ Identities, Wall St. J. (Feb. 7, 2022, 3:51 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/irs-backs-away-from-facial-recognition-to-verify-taxpayers-identities-11644264843.

[2] IRS Unveils New Online Identity Verification Process for Accessing Self-Help Tools, IRS (Nov. 17, 2021), https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-unveils-new-online-identity-verification-process-for-accessing-self-help-tools.

[3] Id.

[4] Rebecca Cooper, IRS to Halt Use of ID.me’s Facial Recognition Software for Identity Authentication, Bus. J. (Feb. 8, 2022), https://www.bizjournals.com/rhodeisland/news/2022/02/08/irs-to-halt-use-of-idme-s-facial-recognition.html.

[5] Gregory Ferenstein, Military ID Verification Service, Troop ID, Raises $2.1 Million, TechCrunch (March 18, 2013, 12:51 AM), https://techcrunch.com/2013/03/17/military-id-verification-service-troop-id-raises-2-1-million/.

[6] Cooper, supra note 4.

[7] Rachel Metz, The IRS Website Will Soon Require Facial Recognition to Log in to Your Account, CNN: Business (Jan. 28, 2022, 4:38 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/27/tech/facial-recognition-irs-idme/index.html.

[8] Id.

[9] About Us, ID.me, https://www.id.me/about (last visited Feb. 8, 2022).

[10] See Rubin, supra note 1.

[11] Under Pressure from Congress, the IRS Won’t Use Facial Recognition for Online Account Access, Thomson Reuters (Feb. 8, 2022), https://tax.thomsonreuters.com/news/under-pressure-from-congress-the-irs-wont-use-facial-recognition-for-online-account-access/.

[12] Aimee Picchi, IRS Says it Will Scrap Facial-Recognition ID.me Plan Following Backlash, CBS News (Feb. 8, 2022), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/irs-id-me-facial-recognition-tax-returns-backlash/.

[13] Caroline Haskins, When You Log in to Your IRS Account This Tax Season You’ll Likely Have to Use ID.me to Verify Your Identity, Bus. Insider (Feb. 4, 2022, 12:28 PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/irs-partner-idme-logs-inferred-citizenship-all-users-data-privacy-2022-2.

[14] Id.

[15] See Tim Cushing, Facial Recognition’s Latest Failure Is Keeping People from Accessing Their Unemployment Benefits, Techdirt (June 29, 2021), https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210620/16473147029/facial-recognitions-latest-failure-is-keeping-people-accessing-their-unemployment-benefits.shtml.

[16] Privacy Policy, ID.me, https://www.id.me/privacy (last updated Feb. 4, 2022).

[17] Id.

[18] Ina Fried, IRS Face Recognition Program Raises Hackles, Axios (Jan. 24, 2022), https://www.axios.com/irs-face-recognition-hackles-id-me-0235a30d-8066-4664-82b2-383313bd1962.html.

[19] IRS Announces Transition Away from Use of Third-Party Verification Involving Facial Recognition, IRS (Feb. 7, 2022), https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-announces-transition-away-from-use-of-third-party-verification-involving-facial-recognition.

[20] 2022 Tax Filing Season Begins Jan. 24, IRS (Jan. 10, 2022), https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/2022-tax-filing-season-begins-jan-24-irs-outlines-refund-timing-and-what-to-expect-in-advance-of-april-18-tax-deadline.

Image source: https://medium.com/@linhdanhanguyen/facial-recognition-the-latest-trend-in-user-authorization-and-social-control-c05d4d14395c