(Bloomberg) -- The Treasury Department is reconsidering the Internal Revenue Service’s reliance on facial recognition software ID.me for access to its website, an official said Friday amid scrutiny of the company’s collection of images of tens of millions of Americans’ faces.
Treasury and the IRS are looking into alternatives to ID.me, the department official said, and the agencies are in the meantime attentive to concerns around the software.
“The IRS is consistently looking for ways to make the filing process more secure,” spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said in a statement to Bloomberg News.
Spokespeople for ID.me did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Treasury statement.
The IRS had previously announced that any taxpayer looking to access an online account on IRS.gov will be required to be verified through ID.me in a process that requires taking a selfie. The website last year began requiring taxpayers to use ID.me to access personalized information about eligibility for expanded child tax credits funded by Biden’s pandemic relief program, the American Rescue Plan, among other services.
LaManna noted that any taxpayer who does not want to use ID.me can opt against filing his or her taxes online.
“We believe in the importance of protecting the privacy of taxpayers, while also ensuring criminals are not able to gain access to taxpayer accounts,” LaManna added, arguing that it’s been “impossible” for the IRS to develop its own cutting-edge identification program because of “the lack of funding for IRS modernization.”
Without its own in-house system, the agency turned to third-party companies including ID.me, which she noted is complaint with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is used by multiple federal agencies.
Research has shown that AI-driven facial recognition software often makes mistakes with darker-skinned people. That identified bias in the technology has prompted activists to call for law enforcement agencies to abandon using it altogether.
ID.me, which has faced criticism for its work on behalf of state unemployment systems during the pandemic, has previously deflected questions about its use of facial recognition technology by saying it only uses so-called one-to-one technology. That process compares a selfie taken by a user to their likeness on a driver’s license or passport.
The company disclosed this week that it actually also used much more controversial one-to-many technology to compare selfies to a bigger database of images that it collected.
Critics have also raised concerns about the third-party company’s access to facial images, but the Treasury official stressed that the IRS protects any data its receives and that the law protects taxpayer information from disclosure to other parties.
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