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Tipsheet

The IRS's Surveillance of Americans Will Soon Reach a Whole New Level

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

Critics on the left and right are decrying the IRS’s new plan to use facial recognition software to confirm Americans’ identities.

While it’s not a requirement yet, by the summer, those visiting the IRS website to access personal records such as tax transcripts, child tax credits, and more, may first need to send a recording of their face to a private contractor to verify their identity.  

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The $86 million ID.me contract with the IRS also has alarmed researchers and privacy advocates who say they worry about how Americans’ facial images and personal data will be safeguarded in the years to come.There is no federal law regulating how the data can be used or shared. While the IRS couldn’t say what percentage of taxpayers use the agency’s website, internal data show it is one of the federal government’s most-viewed websites, with more than 1.9 billion visits last year. […]

About 70 million Americans who have filed for unemployment insurance, pandemic assistance grants, child tax credit payments or other services already have been scanned by the McLean, Va.-based company, which says its client list includes 540 companies; 30 states, including California, Florida, New York and Texas; and 10 federal agencies, including Social Security, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

Jeramie D. Scott, senior counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington, said the IRS’s outsourcing of identity checks to a private company could weaken the public’s ability to know how information is being used, especially because no federal laws govern how facial recognition should work nationwide. […]

“We haven’t even gone the step of putting regulations in place and deciding if facial recognition should even be used like this,” he added. “We’re just skipping right to the use of a technology that has clearly been shown to be dangerous and has issues with accuracy, disproportionate impact, privacy and civil liberties.” (WaPo)

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Along with submitting the video, users will be required to show copies of a driver's license or other form of government-issued identification or a utility bill. The company then uses its software to verify the person's identity. 

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have sounded the alarm about the IRS's use of facial recognition technology.

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