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Facing mounting bipartisan pressure, the Internal Revenue Service announced yesterday that it’s walking back plans to deploy facial recognition software to identify taxpayers.
In November, the IRS signed an $86 million contract with identity verification startup ID.me, announcing that it would require taxpayers to provide personal, identifying materials, including selfies, to access their tax records. Privacy and civil rights advocates responded immediately, forming a coalition of close to 20 groups—from the National Lawyers Guild to the Council on American-Islamic Relations—that criticized the “destructive results of facial recognition technology…from police using it to track Black Lives Matter protesters, to wrongful arrests, to manipulative marketing.” The IRS plan, those groups said, “would have expanded the scope of these harms and impact the lives of millions more people.”
Opponents have found support on both sides of the aisle. 15 Republican and five Democratic senators have demanded an accounting from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, along with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who followed suit with a separate letter. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, of Oregon, raised facial recognition’s history of bias in a separate letter, calling it “simply unacceptable to force Americans to submit to scans using facial recognition technology as a condition of interacting with the government.”
The 15 Republican senators opposing the plan called ID.me’s verification process “intrusive,” arguing that a government clearinghouse of “personal information on a reported 70 million individuals, including biometric data, ID.me could be a top target for cyber-criminals, rogue employees, and espionage.”
ID.me attempts to verify users of digital services by collecting a variety of personal documents, from government-issued IDs, passports, and birth certificates to “video selfies” and interviews with ID.me employees. In addition,…