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IRS: Selfies Now Optional, Biometric Data to Be Deleted

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said Monday that taxpayers are no longer required to provide facial scans to create an account online at irs.gov. In lieu of providing biometric data, taxpayers can now opt for a live video interview with ID.me, the privately-held Virginia company that runs the agency’s identity proofing system. The IRS also said any biometric data already shared with ID.me would be permanently deleted over the next few weeks, and any biometric data provided for new signups will be destroyed after an account is created.

“Taxpayers will have the option of verifying their identity during a live, virtual interview with agents; no biometric data – including facial recognition – will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview,” the IRS said in a Feb. 21 statement.

“Taxpayers will still have the option to verify their identity automatically through the use of biometric verification through ID.me’s self-assistance tool if they choose,” the IRS explained. “For taxpayers who select this option, new requirements are in place to ensure images provided by taxpayers are deleted for the account being created. Any existing biometric data from taxpayers who previously created an IRS Online Account that has already been collected will also be permanently deleted over the course of the next few weeks.”

In addition, the IRS said it planned to roll out Login.gov as an authentication tool for those seeking access to their tax records online. Login.gov is a single sign-on solution already used to access 200 websites run by 28 federal agencies.

“The General Services Administration is currently working with the IRS to achieve the security standards and scale required of Login.Gov, with the goal of moving toward introducing this option after the 2022 filing deadline,” the agency wrote.

The IRS first announced its partnership with ID.me in November, but the press release received little public attention. On Jan. 19, KrebsOnSecurity published the story IRS Will Soon Require Selfies for Online Access, detailing a rocky experience signing up for IRS access via ID.me.

The IRS says it will require ID.me for all logins later this summer.

That story went viral, and the ensuing media coverage forced the IRS to answer questions about why it was incentivizing the collection and storage of biometric data by a private company. On Feb. 7, the IRS announced its intention to transition away from requiring biometric data from taxpayers who wish to access their records at the agency’s website, but it left unanswered the question of what would happen with the facial recognition data already collected by ID.me on behalf of the IRS.

In a letter to the IRS this month, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) challenged the Treasury Department and IRS to reconsider the biometric requirements, saying login.gov is perfectly up to the task if given all of the resources and funding it deserves.

“Unfortunately, login.gov has not yet reached its full potential, in part because many agencies have flouted the Congressional mandate that they use it, and because successive Administrations have failed to prioritize digital identity,” Wyden wrote. “The cost of this inaction has been billions of dollars in fraud, which has in turn fueled a black market for stolen personal data, and enabled companies like ID.me to commercialize what should be a core government service.”