The Treasury Department is reassessing the Internal Revenue Service’s use of third-party facial recognition software ID.me for access to taxpayer accounts amid growing concerns about the company's privacy practices.
A department official told FOX Business on Friday that Treasury and the IRS are exploring alternatives to ID.me. Bloomberg first reported the news.
"The IRS is consistently looking for ways to make the filing process more secure," spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said in a statement to FOX Business. "But to be clear, no American is required to take a selfie in order to file their tax return."
The IRS had previously announced that beginning in summer 2022, users who need to log on to the agency's website to access the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, check online accounts, get their tax transcript, receive an Identity Protection PIN or view an online payment agreement will need to create an account with identity verification company ID.me.
Existing online accounts, which currently only require a simple email and password to access, will no longer work beginning this summer, the IRS said. At that point, users will be required to create an account with ID.me.
The IRS has stressed that individuals will not actually be required to go through ID.me or use facial-recognition software to submit their tax returns. But taxpayers will still be forced to use this software in order to take advantage of some of the IRS' most basic tools. The agency is already urging taxpayers to create accounts "as soon as possible."
"The IRS emphasizes taxpayers can pay or file their taxes without submitting a selfie or other information to a third-party identity verification company," the agency said in a statement. "Tax payments can be made from a bank account, by credit card or by other means without the use of facial recognition technology or registering for an account."
ID.me describes itself as a technology provider that offers secure identity verification by comparing a photo ID provided by users with a video selfie. It was launched in 2010 by military veteran Blake Hall and has quickly solidified its place in the identity-verification business, often on behalf of the U.S. government. Additional IRS tools will begin using ID.me verification "over the next year," the IRS said.
Users must provide ID.me with an email address, Social Security number, photo ID and take a selfie with a camera that will scan the user's face to verify their identity.
But the company drew fresh scrutiny this week when CEO Blake Hall admitted in a LinkedIn post that ID.me uses Amazon's Rekognition technology to compare video selfies submitted by users to its own, bigger internal database of previous applicants. Hall had previously claimed the company used so-called one-to-one technology, a process that compares a selfie taken by an individual to an official document like a driver's license.
"I apologize for that," Hall told Axios on Wednesday. "My intent is never to mislead."
LaManna noted that ID.me is compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The software is also used by multiple agencies across the government.
Still, the news prompted an immediate outcry from privacy advocates, who have warned the practice is invasive and that the IRS is opening the doors to potential data breaches.
The decision "will only lead to further ruin for Americans when their data is inevitably breached," Jackie Singh, director of technology and operations at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, wrote on Twitter. She called the practice "very bad," and called on every "tech-aware American to fight it."