In a victory for privacy and security, the Internal Revenue Service reversed course from its recent announcement that it was partnering with ID.me, a third-party identity verification service, to use facial recognition for verification of users managing many aspects of their taxes online.
Importantly, this change only happened after a maelstrom of criticism from lawmakers and privacy advocates.
Congress Demands Agencies Rethink Use of Facial Recognition
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden tweeted that “no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition as a condition of accessing essential government services." Following up with a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Sen. Wyden wrote that "it is simply unacceptable to force Americans to submit to scans using facial recognition technology as a condition of interacting with the government online, including to access essential government programs."
Reps. Ted Lieu, Anna Eshoo, Pramila Jayapal, and Yvette Clark also sent a letter to Commissioner Rettig, saying that requiring Americans to let a private contractor scan their faces “creates potential risks for privacy violations and abuse” and urged the IRS to halt its plan.
In an equally critical letter following a briefing on the scope of the program, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney said the briefing raised concerns about “the ongoing impact on the millions of Americans who have already turned over their biometric data to a private company….” In the same letter, Maloney also pressed Commissioner Rettig on plans to instruct the provider, ID.me, to destroy the biometric data and on how the agency will ensure that ID.me does not use the data for “unapproved or unauthorized purposes.”
Privacy Advocates Continue the Drumbeat
EFF, EPIC, and scores of other privacy advocates sent similar concerns, pointing out that “the vast majority of people are not aware of the risks associated with handing over their sensitive biometric information and making this tech ‘optional’ puts the onus on the individual to have the right information about those risks.”
We are pleased the IRS and the Treasury decided to end their use of ID.me in response to these concerns, but the conversation cannot end here. According to reports, 27 states have contracted with ID.me as well as federal agencies like the Department of Labor, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Social Security Administration. Sens. Wyden, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren have urged the Department of Labor, specifically, to eliminate its use of the technology.
Every government agency should immediately cancel the use of facial recognition tools, whether Clearview AI, ID.me, Rekognition, or another face scanning program.
As we have written many times before, facial recognition technology has been found to be biased, have a disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized communities, and the use of the technology has serious implications for privacy and civil liberties. This third-party technology should not be forced upon individuals by any government agency at any level.
Federal and state government agencies must end their use of this perilous technology against the public entirely – through ID.me or any other vendor.
View the letter EFF, EPIC, Access Now, ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and scores of other privacy advocates sent to lawmakers.