In early 2022, Snopes readers asked for verification of news reports and screenshots of headlines circulated on social media reporting that the Internal Revenue Service will require people to upload a selfie in order to log in to online IRS accounts.
“Will IRS require an ID.me authentication to access my irs.gov account?” one reader asked.
“Is it true that you’ll soon have to scan your face to access IRS accounts?” another reader asked.
As of this writing, it’s true that the IRS will be requiring taxpayers to use facial recognition software designed by a technology company called ID.me to access IRS documents and services online.
Business-oriented news outlet Bloomberg on Jan. 28, 2022, reported that the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department were “reconsidering” the use of facial recognition software provided by ID.me for its online tax portal after receiving significant blowback from members of Congress, tech privacy activists, and open government advocates:
Treasury and the IRS are looking for alternatives to ID.me, a department official said, but did not specify the agencies are attentive to concerns around the software. The company has faced growing criticism over its software and its use of facial recognition technology.
A January 2022 letter sent to the IRS by government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO) stated:
“We urge you to cease deployment of this technology, due to the dangers it poses to civil liberties and access to services. Use of biometrics — especially face recognition — creates risks regarding both the accuracy of its use as well as the potential for facilitating surveillance.”
One major concern, according to POGO, is that face recognition systems have a higher rate of error for women and people of color.
“It is unacceptable that the ability to use IRS services without obstacles may vary depending on race or gender,” per POGO’s letter.
The organization also expressed “misgivings about how this system might further accelerate biometric surveillance, and face recognition surveillance in particular,” adding that accessing tax information on a government website shouldn’t require people to bear an “unacceptable cost to privacy and civil liberties, especially when government use of face recognition for surveillance is bound by essentially no federal rules or limits.”
A spokesperson for the IRS told Bloomberg that taxpayers who do not wish to have their faces used to log on to its website can opt out of filing online. The spokesperson added that a third party contractor was used for this system because “the lack of funding for IRS modernization” made it impossible for the agency to develop its own identification security system.
According to technology news site Gizmodo, starting in the summer of 2022, taxpayers accessing IRS accounts online will be required to create an account with ID.me ” by uploading either a driver’s license, passport, or passport card. Users are then told to use a cellphone camera or their computer’s webcam to take a selfie.”
The company uses its technology to cross reference the selfie with government IDs to verify identity.
The move to use this technology has resulted in criticism from both Democratic and Republican legislators.
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent a joint letter that “demanded the IRS immediately discontinue any programs that collect, store, and use any type of biometric data to identify American taxpayers.
Epstein, Jennifer, et al. “Treasury Weighing Alternatives to ID.me Over Privacy Concerns,” 28 Jan. 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-28/treasury-weighing-id-me-alternatives-over-privacy-concerns
“IRS Will Require Facial Recognition Scans to Access Your Taxes Online.” Gizmodo, 19 Jan. 2022, https://gizmodo.com/irs-will-require-facial-recognition-scans-to-access-you-1848387715.
“Senators Merkley and Blunt Demand the Immediate Halt of Any Internal Revenue Services (IRS) Programs Using American Taxpayers’ Biometric Data.” News release, https://www.merkley.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senators-merkley-and-blunt-demand-the-immediate-halt-of-any-internal-revenue-services-irs-programs-using-american-taxpayers-biometric-data. Accessed 4 Feb. 2022.