The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it will transition away from using facial recognition software to identify taxpayers, amid controversy over its deal with the private identity verification company ID.me.
“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig 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.”
Members of Congress from both major parties, including Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat known for privacy advocacy, had critiqued the deal, which the IRS had said would require people to submit a selfie to access IRS services online. ID.me had previously faced criticism when it was adopted by many states to verify people’s identities during a rush of pandemic-related unemployment claims. State officials said the system was needed to combat fraud, but some people said they had difficulty getting the system to verify them, while advocates expressed concerns about the effects on people with limited internet access, privacy issues, and potential algorithmic bias.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for ID.me referred Fast Company to the IRS. The Virginia-based company has previously said that its systems are secure and that it isn’t affected by the kinds of racial bias issues that often plague other facial recognition systems, which tend to perform worse on people with darker skin.
The IRS says it will build another authentication system that doesn’t use facial recognition. In recent years, the agency has faced issues with scammers impersonating taxpayers to claim refunds and impersonating the agency to steal people’s information and money.