“No biometric data — including facial recognition — will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview,” the agency said in a statement.
The IRS, however, will continue to do business with the vendor ID.me, which last year received a two-year $86 million contract from the agency, and will still give taxpayers the option to verify their identities automatically, using facial recognition technology, with ID.me’s self-assistance tool.
“For taxpayers who select this option, new requirements are in place to ensure images provided by taxpayers are deleted for the account being created,” the agency said.
The IRS launched a new identity verification process in November, which required taxpayers to sign in with an ID.me account, or create one. The agency, however, quickly changed course after recent criticism from Congress and associations who took issue with the agency’s partnership with the private facial recognition service.
The IRS describes its current identity verification arrangement as a “short-term solution” meant to cover the rest of this year’s filing season.
After the filing season ends, the agency said it will work with the General Services Administration to roll out Login.gov as an authentication tool.
Login.gov already serves as the foundation that allows 40 million Americans to sign into 200 websites from 28 agencies.
“The General Services Administration is currently working with the IRS to achieve the security standards and scale required of Login.gov, with the goal of moving toward introducing this option after the 2022 filing deadline,” the IRS said.
A GSA spokesperson, earlier this month, said the team behind Login.gov does not currently have plans to implement facial recognition as an identity authentication option.
It remains unclear, however, how quickly taxpayers will be able to schedule and complete a virtual interview, and how this new service will compare to ID.me’s self-help tool that relies on facial recognition technology.
The ID.me self-help tool requires taxpayers to provide a photo of a government-issued document, including a driver’s license, state ID or passport, then take a “selfie” with a smartphone or computer webcam.
The company, meanwhile has ramped up hiring to assist the IRS and its other government customers.
WTOP reported last month that ID.me, one of the D.C.-area’s fastest-growing companies, announced it would hire an additional 750 employees, including video chat agents, to meet increased demand related to the tax season. These new hires would also help support unemployment claims, health care and financial services organizations.
ID.me’s new hires would add to the 1,000 new hires the company expected to fill by the end of last year, which would quadruple its workforce.
The IRS said it will, over the next few weeks, permanently delete any existing biometric data from taxpayers who already created an IRS online account.
ID.me Founder and CEO Blake Hall said in a statement earlier this month that all of its users will be able to delete their selfies or photo at account.ID.me starting on March 1.
Senators press other agencies over facial recognition use
The previous requirement for the public to use facial recognition to access IRS services online struck a nerve for Congress and watchdog groups.
National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins told the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday that “maybe single-digit millions of taxpayers went through the ID.me program,” and went through with facial recognition technology in order to opt-out of the advance child tax credit (CTC).
However, Collins said that ID.me’s services also gave the taxpayers the “advantage” of greater access to their records.
Rather than allowing 30-to-40% of taxpayers to access their records online prior to the ID.me rollout, she said more than 70% of taxpayers were able to access their records online using ID.me services.
“To me, that is a huge benefit for taxpayers. But at the same time, I do recognize the concern of security and privacy,” Collins said. “What I’d like all of us to work together with the IRS [on] is how do we get a secure environment that provides protections for the taxpayers, but also, at the same time, how do we get as many people to access their own records as possible? That’s my only concern of quickly switching away from ID.me. I want to make sure that we don’t harm taxpayers who are seeking to get access to their own records.”
Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig “responded quickly” to congressional concerns about facial recognition.
Lawmakers, however, remain apprehensive about other uses of facial recognition in public-facing services. ID.me counts 10 federal agencies and 30 states as its customers.
Wyden said he and committee members Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have started to extend their inquiries to other agencies that rely on facial recognition.
“The bottom line here is smart technology policies, for example, address your privacy and your security. Not-so-smart technology policies give you less of both. So that’s what we’re going to work on. We’re going to do it in a bipartisan way,” Wyden said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that the IRS implementing facial recognition was “extremely concerning” to his constituents, both for privacy and safety reasons.