The IRS, after weeks of denial from Congress and the public, is now allowing taxpayers to open an account online without using biometrics, including facial recognition.
Taxpayers now have the option to verify their identity through a live virtual interview, the IRS announced Monday.
“No biometrics – 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 provider ID.me, which last year received a two-year, $86 million contract from the agency, and will still give taxpayers the ability to verify their identity. automatically, using facial recognition technology, with ID.me’s self-help tool.
“For taxpayers choosing this option, new requirements are in place to ensure that images provided by taxpayers are removed for the account being created,” the agency said.
The IRS describes the arrangement as a “short-term fix” intended to cover the remainder of this year’s filing season.
After 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 home base for 40 million Americans to log into 200 websites from 28 agencies.
“The General Services Administration is currently working with the IRS to achieve the security standards and scale required for Login.Gov, with the goal of making progress toward introducing this option past the 2022 filing deadline,” said said the IRS.
A GSA spokesperson earlier this month said the team behind Login.gov currently has no plans to implement facial recognition as an identity authentication option.
However, it’s still unclear 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 recognition technology. facial.
WTOP reported last month that ID.me, one of the DC area’s fastest growing companies, announced it would hire 750 additional staff, including video chat agents, to respond to increased demand related to tax season. These new hires would also help support unemployment claims, health care and financial services organizations.
The new ID.me hires would add to the 1,000 new hires the company is expected to fill by the end of last year, which would quadruple its workforce.
The IRS said it will permanently delete all existing biometrics of taxpayers who have already created an IRS online account over the next few weeks.
The previous requirement for the public to opt in to facial recognition to access IRS services online has struck a nerve for Congress and watchdog groups.
The incident, however, also showed how the IRS and other agencies carefully distinguish between improving the customer experience and data security and privacy.
But agencies, amid an increase in public demand to use government services digitally, as well as an increase in abusive payments from COVID-19 stimulus programs, are facing mounting pressure to render services to customers. easier to access, but also safer.
National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins told the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday that “perhaps millions of single-digit taxpayers have gone through the ID.me program” and used facial recognition technology to to withdraw from the advance tax credit for children (CTC).
However, Collins said ID.me’s services also gave taxpayers the “advantage” of better access to their records.
Rather than allowing 30-40% of taxpayers to access their records online, she said more than 70% of taxpayers can access their records online using ID.me services.
“For me, this is a huge benefit for taxpayers. But at the same time, I recognize the concern for security and privacy,” Collins said. “What I wish we all worked together with the IRS [on] is how do you achieve a secure environment that provides protections for taxpayers, but also, at the same time, how do you ensure that as many people as possible have access to their own records? It’s my only concern to quickly move away from ID.me. I want to make sure we’re not hurting taxpayers who are trying to access 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 concerned about other uses of facial recognition in public-facing services. ID.me counts 10 federal agencies and 30 states among its customers.
Wyden said he and members of the Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have begun expanding their investigations to other agencies that rely on facial recognition.
“The bottom line here is that smart tech policies, for example, address your privacy and security. Not-so-smart tech 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 (RS.D.) said the IRS’ implementation of facial recognition was “extremely concerning” to his constituents, both for privacy and security reasons.