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IRS to 'transition away' from facial recognition for access to online system

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IRS to 'transition away' from facial recognition for access to online system
The IRS on Monday said it will "transition away" from requiring taxpayers to verify their identities through facial recognition software to access their online accounts. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI  | License Photo

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The Internal Revenue Service on Monday said it will no longer use facial recognition software as a requirement for taxpayers to access their online accounts.

In a statement Monday, the agency said it will "transition away" from requiring taxpayers to take selfies and verify their identities through ID.me -- a third-party service -- following concerns about privacy and data security.

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

Last month, the IRS announced the shift to facial recognition, stating it would phase out the previous system requiring only an email and password to gain access to online accounts by mid-2022.

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The agency said the email and password system was risky and facial recognition would help protect taxpayers from identity theft.

Americans would not be obligated to use facial recognition to pay their taxes but would have to use the system to access other services such as records of previous payments, access to wage transcripts, and access to the Child Tax Credit Update portal.

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The Treasury Department awarded ID.me, a 12-year-old Virginia-based company, an $86 million contract in 2021 to make taxpayer accounts more secure.

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Critics of the program however raised concern about the collection of sensitive biometric data and privacy advocates said ID.me has been unreliable in verifying identities.

In a tweet Monday, ID.me said that facial recognition is "just one of the components we use to follow the federal standards."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS should seek a less invasive solution.

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"I have long argued that Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy for security," Wyden said. "The government can treat Americans with respect and dignity while protecting against fraud and identity theft."

The IRS said the transition "will occur over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season" and will not interfere with taxpayer's ability to file their tax return or pay taxes owed.

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