Tax Return

IRS backtracks, pledges not to require facial recognition for taxpayers

The Internet Revenue Service faced intense criticism following the news it would require selfies for online tax filing later this year.

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Well, would you look at that — our collective discomfort with the ever-expanding surveillance state fostered by government agencies and Big Tech corporations has actually amounted to something. Earlier today, the Internal Revenue Service pledged that it would “transition away” from utilizing third-party facial recognition tech for taxpayer ID verification after intense backlash from both the public and bipartisan politicians.

Last month, word circulated that the IRS had partnered with to initiate a system that required taxpayers to upload a selfie if they wished to file their returns through the government website. If you can believe it, the news did not sit well with pretty much anyone for many reasons, including that persistent, pesky racial bias issue alongside the general uneasiness that comes from imagining a government contractor maintaining a database of taxpayer faces. After publicly announcing it would reevaluate that approach, the IRS confirmed today that the plan is dead in the water. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on whatever not-as-terrible alternative the government offers in the coming months.

Should not affect this tax season — “The I.R.S. takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” said agency commissioner Charles P. Rettig in a statement. “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.” The IRS also made sure to note that this reversal should not adversely affect taxpayers this season, despite the quick turnaround time. So don’t worry, you’ll find out how much you owe Uncle Sam soon enough.

Better security is needed — We can’t believe we’re saying this, but it is undeniable that better cybersecurity procedures are necessary for massive government agencies like the IRS. Although that doesn’t necessitate the adoption of biometric data gathering like facial recognition, federal authorities do need to keep up with the technologies employed by malicious actors. It’s unclear right now how they will balance citizens’ personal security and comfort with the needs of the time, but at least we can rest a bit easier knowing facial recognition won’t be a part of that (for now).