IRS ID.me Is a No-Go

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Starting in the summer of 2022, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was going to require facial recognition for taxpayers to access online information. This move was proposed to reduce or eliminate identity theft. To facilitate this move, the IRS had contracted the company ID.me.

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ID.me is a digital identity network. It was developed to simplify how individuals share and prove their identity online.

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What Was IRS ID.me

With ID.me, a taxpayer would have had to prove their identity through facial recognition. First, they would have had to provide government identification. Then they would have been required to upload a picture, such as a selfie. Or a taxpayer could take a self-video to submit.

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The purpose of the photo identification, as part of a taxpayer's IRS information, was to aid in deterring identity theft.

A photo identification would only be necessary to download past information. It was not required to file a return.

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With ID.me, there were other perks. For example, once your identification was verified, you would have been able to log into websites that have the ID.me green button. These include government and some private sector websites.

Military veterans, first responders and teachers would have been eligible for discounts at specified retailers.

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IRS Cancels Facial Recognition

Under pressure from taxpayers, lawmakers and privacy critics, the IRS canceled IRS ID.me. On February 7, 2022, the IRS announced that they would begin the "transition away using a third-party service for facial recognition." This would happen in the ongoing weeks after the announcement to help keep disruptions to a minimum.

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IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig explained that the IRS "takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously and we understand the concerns that have been raised".

Lawmakers Criticized Using ID.me

Prior to the IRS announcement, congressional representatives sent IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig a letter to stop the IRS from using facial recognition for taxpayers. Some of their concerns were about data security and privacy.

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Reps. Anna Eshoo, Pramila Jayapal, Ted Lieu and Yvette Clarke expressed concerns about using ID.me. They feared that using a third party to identify taxpayers and entering this information into a database opened it to cyber attacks.

Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden told Bloomberg News that no one "should be forced to submit to facial recognition as a condition of accessing essential government services".

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Some lawmakers were also concerned that low-income taxpayers would be discriminated against. These taxpayers may not be able to afford the reliable broadband that was required for video.

Read more​: Filing Your Income Tax Return

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ID.me Lack of Transparency

In January 2022, many privacy groups expressed concern about ID.me's lack of transparency. From the beginning, ID.me had explained that they only compare a government issued photo identification to the taxpayer submitted selfie or video.

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According to ID.me founder and CEO Blake Hall, the ID.me facial recognition was comparable to unlocking a smartphone with a selfie. In other words, the technology is one to one. He claimed that they do not use one to many facial recognition. This means they don't compare faces to a comprehensive database.

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But this statement was later contradicted by Hall in a post.

On January 26, 2022, Hall posted on LinkedIn that the company used one to many. In other words, taxpayers' selfies were compared to a database.

Critics, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quickly expressed concern.

In a Gizmodo interview, ACLU Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst, expressed concerns about ID.me's lack of transparency when connected with a government agency. He pointed out that, unlike the government, a private company isn't subject to the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act. There are no checks and balances with a private company.

Privacy Groups Criticized ID.me

This comment set off a firestorm among privacy groups. Fight for the Future Campaign Director Caitlin Seeley George said at the time of Hall's statement that government agencies should reconsider their partnership with ID.me. George went on to call for a congressional investigation into the company.

Racial and Gender Bias Concerns

Another reaction to the revelation that ID.me uses one to many facial recognition, was the concern for bias.

In reaction to Hall's statement, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) director Albert Fox Cahn raised concerns about the potential risk for racial or gender bias.

The software that ID.me is dependent on is the same software Amazon had ceased selling to law enforcement agencies. Again, bias concerns were the reason for halting sales.

ID.me said they compared selfies based on the Amazon Rekognition technology. ID.me had verified 20.9 million users' selfies using the Rekognition technology as of January 25, 2022.

ID.me Used by States and Businesses

The IRS isn't the only government agency involved with ID.me. One hundred and forty-five thousand individuals currently use the company ID.me. It has partnered with several federal agencies and 27 states at this writing. Over 500 name-brand retailers also use the service.

ID.me provides identity proofing, group affiliation and authentication of individuals for organizations and businesses. In addition, it's the only company of its kind that provides video chat and in-person verification.

ID.me was awarded an $86.1 million contract by the IRS in June 2021.

What IRS ID.me Required

If you wanted to retrieve tax information with the IRS online, there were a few items that IRS ID.me required:

● Email address

● Social Security number

● Government-issued photo I.D. (driver's license, passport, passport card or state I.D.)

● Mobile phone with a camera

● Laptop or computer with a camera (optional)

Once you had gathered all your information and equipment, you would have been ready to proceed to enter it into your IRS account.

But if you could not verify your identity through this method, you would have been sent to an ID.me referee to verify your identity over a video call. Your identity documents and selfie would have been required to be shown to the referee. Who the referee would be, was not addressed.

Why IRS Wanted ID.me

In 2014, the IRS started a service where taxpayers could download a transcript or previous year's returns. But in 2015, the IRS announced that cybercriminals had ordered transcripts by using information acquired from other sources. This affected 225,000 individuals. Seven hundred thousand additional taxpayers were also hacked.

Online facial recognition became an answer to the problem of ensuring taxpayers were not the victims of identity theft.

Read more​: How Do I Check My IRS Account

Transition Away From Facial Recognition

Even though this is happening during the tax season, the IRS stated they would be able to transition away from facial recognition smoothly.

The IRS plans to quickly develop and go live with an authentication process that doesn't involve facial recognition. Commissioner Rettig did say that they would continue to work with "cross government partners" to develop authentication methods.

Remove Selfies From IRS Website

If you've already loaded your selfie or video up to the IRS website, you'll be able to take it down. As of March 1, 2022, these photos can be removed.

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