IRS to Stop Use of Facial Recognition Tech After Widespread Backlash

Multiple lawmakers had contacted the IRS with concerns over the use of ID.me.

Feb 7 2022, 7:36pm
Hacking. Disinformation. Surveillance. CYBER is Motherboard's podcast and reporting on the dark underbelly of the internet.

The IRS said on Monday it will stop the use of ID.me, an identification verification service that uses facial recognition technology.

Lawmakers had raised concerns with the service over the last week, with multiple members of Congress and senators urging the IRS to stop the deployment of ID.me.

"The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. "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."

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“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 earlier today,” Senator Ron Wyden said in an emailed statement. 

Democratic House members Anna Eshoo, Ted W. Lieu, Pramila Jayapal, and Yvette Clarke all raised objections to the IRS’ use of ID.me earlier Monday as well.

Do you work at ID.me? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

“We write to you with great concern regarding the IRS’s plan to employ face recognition software requiring millions of Americans to have their face scanned by a private contractor. Any government agency operating a face recognition technology system—or contracting with a third party—creates potential risks of privacy violations and abuse. We urge the IRS to halt this plan and consult with a wide variety of stakeholders before deciding on an alternative,” a letter from the lawmakers sent on Monday read.

This year the IRS was planning to use ID.me for people logging into their IRS accounts during and around tax season. Users would be required to take video selfies which would be compared with their official documents in order to verify their identity. The Treasury Department’s June 2021 contract with ID.me was worth over $86 million, according to public procurement records.

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Cyberscoop previously reported that ID.me’s system used Amazon’s facial recognition product called Rekognition.

In a tweet posted on Monday, ID.me wrote that “ID.me is an identity verification company. We orchestrate numerous tools. Facial recognition is just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards. Without it, the identity thieves behind these masks would be much more successful,” along with a photo of masks that the company has previously claimed fraudsters are using and which ID.me’s systems have caught.

“We would refer you to the IRS with any questions on this issue,” ID.me told Motherboard in an email.

Update: This piece has been updated to include statements from the IRS and ID.me.

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Tagged:

SURVEILLANCE, privacy, CYBER, taxes, IRS

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