Happy Friday, privacy pros!
We’re about to see some unseasonably warm temperatures this weekend in Southern Maine and after the snow and ice that has hit us hard lately, I am so looking forward to it. It’s a gentle reminder to hang on just a bit longer, spring is right around the corner.
Quickly ramping up right now, though, is tax season. As we’re all receiving the necessary documents in the mail and planning to meet the April 18 deadline, the Internal Revenue Service has also been preparing, working to meet challenges presented by the pandemic, complex stimulus and child tax credits, backlogs and staffing shortages.
The agency has also stirred controversy in recent weeks over its now abandoned plan to use facial recognition software from third-party company ID.me to verify taxpayers’ identity using an uploaded video selfie for certain online interactions. The plan drew criticism from taxpayers and lawmakers and raised concerns that without serious protections the collected biometric data could be reused for other purposes, while civil rights groups launched a website calling on the U.S. Treasury Department to abandon the idea.
“All facial recognition tools will cause a lot of the same issues: they will amass a database of peoples’ most sensitive information that can be shared with other agencies and law enforcement, and also will be a target for hackers,” Fight for the Future Campaign Director Caitlin Seeley George said. “No government agency should be using facial recognition or other biometrics to verify identity.”
Following the concerns, the IRS ultimately announced it would “transition away” from the ID.me proposal. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said the agency “takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously” and understands the concerns that were raised. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition,” he said.
While the plan has been abandoned for now, it's not a surprise that implementation of facial recognition technology is fraught with controversy and risk. Though it may serve some beneficial uses in other contexts, it can also be a lightning rod that raises the public ire. This was yet another example.
Enjoy the weekend!
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