​IRS Retreats from Facial Recognition Plan After Protests​ – AARP

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Personal Technology Resource Center
Personal Technology Resource Center

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The Internal Revenue Service is backing off a controversial plan that would have required federal taxpayers who log into the agency’s website to verify their identities via facial recognition technology from a private company, a plan that drew harsh criticism from privacy advocates and some lawmakers.
As part of a program that was to start this summer, taxpayers were being asked to upload a selfie captured from a smartphone or webcam and have the photo matched against a picture from a driver’s license, state ID or passport. The IRS was teaming up with ID.me — a Virginia-based firm with facial recognition technology that remains in use at other federal agencies — to have this method be the sole way to access IRS.gov.
A representative for ID.me referred all requests for comment to the IRS.
“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 released Monday. “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 IRS said in a news release that “it will transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts … over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season.” The agency added that the transition “does not interfere with the taxpayer’s ability to file their return or pay taxes owed … [and that] people should continue to file their taxes as they normally would.”

Facial recognition has long been a hot-button issue. Proponents point to the technology’s effectiveness in catching bad guys and in verifying that people are who they say they are. But critics say facial recognition is an invasion of privacy, potentially inaccurate and racially biased.
“The IRS’ plan to use facial recognition on people who are just trying to access their tax information online was a profound threat to everyone’s security and civil liberties," says Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director at the Boston-based digital advocacy group Fight for the Future. "We’re glad to see that grassroots activism and backlash from lawmakers and experts has forced the agency to back down."
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.
 
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