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IRS backtracks on facial recognition plans following backlash

The turnabout was prompted by privacy concerns raised by taxpayers, lawmakers, and advocacy groups

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced it will no longer employ a third-party facial recognition service to authenticate new online accounts, just days after announcing it would.

The IRS said last week that, from the summer of 2022, taxpayers would required to validate their IRS accounts through an external identity verification firm ID.me by providing a government-issued photo document, such as a driver's license, state ID, or passport, in addition to taking a video selfie using a computer or smartphone.

The IRS has now pulled the plug on this plan following concerns over user privacy

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

"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."

To prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during the filing season, the IRS plans to make the transition over the next few weeks.

A new form of authentication will be rolled out by the agency, which does not use facial recognition. With the help of its cross-government partners, the IRS will also implement security measures to safeguard taxpayer data and improve access to its online tools.

“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,” added IRS.

Although ID.me did not directly address the controversy, the company took to Twitter to comment on it.

“Facial recognition is just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards,” the company said. “Without it, the identity thieves behind these masks would be much more successful.”

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