IRS drops plan to use Va. firm’s facial recognition tech
Future of McLean-based ID.me's $86.1M contract unclear
The Internal Revenue Service is dropping a controversial plan to require taxpayers to submit to facial recognition to access their online accounts, the agency announced Monday. McLean-based contractor ID.me was working on the facial recognition system, which the IRS had earlier said would be implemented on its website this summer.
To prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers, the IRS will “transition away” from using ID.me “for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts,” the IRS said in a news release. The agency will instead “quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition.”
A startup founded in 2010, ID.me currently works with 10 federal agencies, including Social Security and Veterans Affairs, as well as at least 25 state employment agencies. The company holds an $86.1 million contract to provide the facial recognition services for the IRS, and it’s unclear what the announcement means for that contract. “We would refer you to the IRS with any questions on this issue,” an ID.me media spokesperson said.
“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” 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.”
Last week, responding to an inquiry from Virginia Business about the technology, the IRS released this statement about its plans to implement the facial recognition technology: “As we said when we announced this, this technology enables more people to securely access and use IRS online tools and applications and is a step the IRS took to ensure that taxpayer information is provided only to the person who legally has a right to the data.”
On Thursday, a group of 15 Republican U.S. senators, including former Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley, sent Rettig a letter expressing concern over the IRS’s plan, which would have required taxpayers to create an ID.me account.
“We are deeply concerned for many reasons,” the senators wrote. “The government and private companies have an unfortunate history of data breaches. The examples are many,” they said, citing Pro Publica’s June 2021 publishing of information from leaked tax records of the nation’s wealthiest billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
“The IRS has unilaterally decided to allow an outside contractor to stand as the gatekeeper between citizens and necessary government services. The decision millions of Americans are forced to make is to pay the toll of giving up their most personal information, biometric data, to an outside contractor or return to the era of a paper-driven bureaucracy where information moves slow.”
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, sent Rettig a letter urging the IRS to reverse the “implementation of facial recognition screening software for Americans who wish to access their historical tax documents online. … In addition to the serious privacy and civil liberties issues associated with the use of facial recognition technology, it is also alarming that the IRS and so many other government agencies have outsourced their core technology infrastructure to the private sector,” Wyden wrote.