IRS Nixes Facial Recognition Plan After Backlash

The agency reverses taxpayer requirement to send video scans of their faces to access tax records and other services.

February 09, 2022

Facial Recognition Scan

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition authentication for those creating new online accounts, according to a news release.

The IRS announced this past summer that all taxpayers would need to submit a “video selfie” to its facial recognition partner,, to access tax records and other services on the IRS website, reports the Washington Post.

The agency received criticism of the decision from members of Congress and private companies. Those against the technology say using facial recognition creates an unfair burden on Americans who don’t have a smartphone or computer camera, would make sensitive data vulnerable to hackers and could become a tool for racial discrimination.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement: “I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive, and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services.”

Critics of Wyden say that digital identity systems should be run by the government. A group of bipartisan members have called on the government to make verifying the identities of its own citizens a federal priority, as opposed to a task managed by a private company.

The IRS said that it would work to develop another authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. It is not clear what will happen to the two-year, $86-million contract the IRS signed with last summer or the personal or facial data that Americans have submitted to already. Yesterday, announced the ability to delete selfies and identity verification without automated facial recognition.

“We have listened to the feedback about facial recognition and are making this important change, adding an option for users to verify directly with a human agent to ensure consumers have even more choice and control over their personal data,” said founder and CEO Blake Hall. “In recent weeks, we have modified our process so government agencies can empower people to choose to verify their identity with an expert human agent without going through a selfie check. Agencies can now select this configuration. Additionally, all users will be able to delete their selfie or photo at beginning on March 1.”

The IRS said transitioning away from using a third-party service for facial recognition will occur over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season.

“During the transition, the IRS will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The IRS will also continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools,” wrote the IRS in the release.

NACS Daily reported that more than 30 advocacy organizations started a campaign to get retailers to halt usage of facial recognition technology or to agree not to use it. Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Kroger are among the chains agreeing not to rely on facial recognition software. Stores using the technology include Albertson’s, Apple and Macy’s, although these chains say it’s only used to stop fraud and increase security.