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The IRS may start requiring facial scans to access financial documents

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Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Internal Revenue Service may soon require the American people to digitally scan their faces in order to file their taxes and access their financial records, the Washington Post reported.

Currently, Americans can file their taxes the way they always have, via the United States Postal Service or e-file, but by the summer of 2022, the IRS is expecting Americans to upload pictures or brief videos of their face via smartphone, tablet, or computer to access their personal records, per a November 2021 press release from the IRS.

The federal government awarded an $86 million contract to the digital security firm ID.me in order to accomplish this feat. ID.me is already testing this system; if individuals try to access their IRS documents online, there is a good chance they will encounter the ID.me identification protocols.

ID.me reported that in December 2021, more than 60,000 face photos were submitted in a single day, although it is unclear how many of these were uploaded by taxpayers. There were also high numbers of complaints regarding the identity verification process that caused people to abandon the process out of frustration.

According to ID.me’s website, “the company’s technology meets the highest federal standards” and already has existing relationships with “27 states, multiple federal agencies, and over 500 name brand retailers.”

The company’s homepage touts its relationship with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Linkedin, and the insurance company USAA. Notably, ID.me also does business with the Chinese technology company Lenovo.

The United States government buys a considerable amount of technology from Lenovo, despite it being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and funneling sensitive data to the Chinese intelligence apparatus.

What the IRS’ relationship with ID.me means for the future of private tax preparation services — like H&R Block — remains to be seen, but adding the requirement of facial recognition to access one’s tax records is likely not to be a popular decision once implemented on a large scale.

Furthermore, despite digital technology infiltrating every aspect of the human experience, there remains a sizable discrepancy in the American people’s tech-savviness. Many people in older generations still struggle with accessing and navigating digital platforms, whether they have access to the internet or not.

Some members of Congress have expressed concern over giving ID.me such power over sensitive personal information and what it could mean for the future of data privacy and transparency in government.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called the IRS and ID.me collaboration a “very, very bad idea” and that it would “further weaken Americans’ privacy.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that he was “very disturbed that Americans may have to submit to a facial recognition system” to “access personal data on the IRS website.”

A Senate Finance Committee aide told the Washington Post that the committee is working toward scheduling meetings with the IRS and ID.me to address these concerns.

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