Feb 07—In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is backing down from a transition to the use of facial recognition software.
In a public statement, the agency expressed that it will “transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts.”
The ID.me contract
In the past few years, due to a reported “lack of resources”, the IRS recently signed an $86 million contract with the questionable company known as ID.me, which processes facial recognition information.
Since then, more than 70 million Americans have since had their faces scanned in order to receive unemployment insurance, pandemic assistance grants, child tax credit payments, or other services.
In November, the IRS announced that all Americans would be required to have an ID.me account in order to access online information.
IRS said taxpayers needed ID.me account to:
- To check the status of a return
- To view balances
- To see payments received
And other rudimentary functionalities.
The IRS’ new plans
On account of near-immediate widespread public backlash over mandatory use of ID.me for tax-related purposes, the IRS intends to develop “an additional authentication process” that does not involve facial recognition.
Says IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, “The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised.” Rettig asserts that the agency is exploring new security options.
The Hill vs. the IRS
On Monday, February 7th, two separate groups of Democrats submitted letters to the IRS, which demanded termination of facial recognition technology use. Further, a congressperson introduced legislation that would prohibit the IRS from all use of facial recognition tech.
In defense, the IRS contended that facial recognition technology was necessary for the prevention of fraud.
Fight for the Future
Civil rights groups, including Algorithmic Justice League, Fight for the Future and the Electronic Privacy Information Center quickly leapt into action last week.
Campaign director at Fight for the Future, Caitlin Seeley George, contends that the IRS’ plan to use facial recognition software for people who want to see their tax information constitutes a “…profound threat to everyone’s security and civil liberties.”
She also calls for a “full investigation” into the government’s use of facial recognition technologies and the unexpected use of taxpayer dollars for the funding of such initiatives.
Many contended that security constituted an obvious point of concern within the IRS’ plan. The ID.me company may or may not be able to provide safe data storage long-term.
Sensitive information is vulnerable to hacks. Cyber criminals deliberately attempt to steal biometric data that can be sold on the dark web for impersonation purposes.
US facial recognition use-cases
The IRS is not the only US federal agency that collects and stores facial recognition data. Ten additional agencies use some sort of facial recognition technology.
Regarding fair use of facial recognition tech, experts point to research showing that “to varying degrees, some of these algorithms have a racial bias and do not work as well on people of color.”
However, other experts speak to the social benefits of facial recognition technology, and state that the main challenge is simply the security component.
For more information pertaining to facial recognition technology, see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage.