The Internal Revenue Service on Monday announced that taxpayers will be able to forgo the use of facial recognition software in order to access their online accounts following the controversy over the use of biometric data, The New York Times reports.
The agency said earlier this month that it plans to "transition away" from the service ID.me, which is uses to authenticate taxpayer identities when they set up online accounts. Although the IRS began using the software in an attempt to improve security and avoid leaking user data, activists and legislators have claimed that the system invades taxpayers' privacy by requiring them to take a photo of themselves to verify their account.
"No biometric data — including facial recognition — will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview," the IRS said in a statement, according to the Times.
In addition, the photos gathered from users will be deleted from ID.me's servers over the next few weeks, and any new photos taken this year will not be stored on the company's servers. ID.me also introduced new options that government agencies can use to verify identities without using facial recognition technology, and said that users will be able to delete their photos starting in March.
"We have listened to the feedback about facial recognition and are making this important change," said Blake Hall, the CEO of ID.me.
A Treasury Department spokesperson had no comment for the Times when asked about the future of the agency’s contract with ID.me.
Earlier this month, a group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig calling on him to provide taxpayers with information in multiple languages to help guide them through the process of deleting the photos taken for the ID.me facial recognition system and repeating their concerns about the use of the technology.
"Congress has repeatedly expressed concern with the development of an unconstrained and pervasive surveillance infrastructure, fueled by systems like ID.me. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a leading oversight watchdog, has cautioned that the use of this type of technology often plays an outsized role in law enforcement investigations, despite serious flaws that can lead to wrongful arrests and civil rights violations," the senators wrote.
"We are concerned about whether taxpayers will be offered a meaningful choice to protect their biometric data, whether ID.me will properly manage the vast amount of biometric data provided by taxpayers, and whether there has been substantial oversight of this facial recognition technology since the launch of ID.me verification at the IRS last summer," they added.
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