US tax agency scraps facial recognition plan after criticism

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US tax administration announced on Monday (February 7th) that it will stop using facial recognition software to verify the identity of taxpayers when they create accounts online, following a chorus confidentiality issues.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials had proposed the authentication system as a security measure after years of growing fears over online scams and identity theft, but the program ended up raising concerns as well. .

The initiative involved identity verification firm ID.me, which won a nearly US$90 million (S$121 million) contract to make taxpayer accounts more secure.

The IRS said “it will stop using a third-party facial recognition service to help authenticate people creating new online accounts.”

“The IRS will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition,” he said, as the agency faces staffing shortages and… significant arrears.

ID.me has referred all questions about this to the IRS and has made no further comment.

Critics have piled on the program since it was announced last year, with privacy watchdogs and lawmakers both raising questions.

“While the IRS had the best intentions – to keep criminals from accessing Americans’ tax records… – forcing Americans to submit to scans is simply unacceptable,” Senator Ron Wyden wrote.

“It is also alarming that the IRS and so many government agencies have outsourced their core technology infrastructure to the private sector,” he added.

Facial recognition software has been criticized on multiple fronts, including because it was developed on predominantly white populations and therefore commits more errors on people of color.

Rights watchdogs have accused the technology of reproducing human biases already present in society, such as racism.

Under pressure from watchdogs, major companies like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google have stopped, at least temporarily, selling their facial recognition software to police forces.

Social media giant Facebook announced in November it was shutting down its long-criticized facial recognition system and removing scan data on a billion people.

Facebook’s Face ID launched in 2010 and went through changes to bolster privacy, but was still the focus of a major lawsuit and regulatory review.

The social network in 2020 agreed to a US$650 million payout after failing to get a case dismissed alleging it illegally collected biometric information to ‘face tag’ in violation of a 2008 law on privacy in Illinois.

Esther L. Steinbach