IRS to use Facial Recognition for Website, Causes Uproar in Congress

According to reports, by next summer, millions of Americans could have to scan their faces to obtain access to their Internal Revenue Service tax accounts— an attempt by the government to integrate facial recognition software into the everyday lives of people.

To confirm their identity and access their records on child tax credits, tax transcripts and payment plans on the IRS website, American citizens could be required to record and send a video of their face to a private contractor

Many taxpayers have already been introduced to the system when they tried to go through some records that can be accessed online. The company stated that over 60,000 face photos were submitted in a single day last month. However, there were numerous complaints of unclear instructions and long wait times causing a large number to abandon the process.

The $86 million contract with the IRS has raised quite a few eyebrows of researchers and privacy advocates who worry about the security of the Americans’ facial images and personal data. There is a noticeable lack of federal laws regulating the use and storage of such data. Internal data shows that the IRS’ website is one of the government’s most visited websites, with over 1.9 billion visits last year.

Some members of Congress are evidently unhappy with the new development, one of them being Sen. Ron Wyden who tweeted that he was ‘very disturbed’ by it and would push for ‘greater transparency’. Rep. Ted Lieu regarded it as ‘a very, very bad idea by the IRS’ that would further weaken Americans’ privacy’. A committee aide stated that the Senate Finance Committee is working on scheduling briefings with the IRS and on the matter.

‘No one should be forced to submit to facial recognition as a condition of accessing essential government services,’ Wyden said in a separate statement. ‘I’m continuing to seek more information about and other identity verification systems being used by federal agencies.’

‘Given the many problems in the filing season just underway, it is a stretch to launch an initiative of this sensitivity in the present circumstances,’ said Mark Everson, Vice Chairman of the tax services firm Alliantgroup and a former IRS commissioner.

Jeramie D. Scott, senior counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington said, ‘You go from a government agency, that at least has some obligation under the Privacy Act and other laws to a third party, where there’s a lack of transparency and understanding and the potential risks go up.’

‘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.’

Joy Buolamwini, Founder and Executive Director of the research advocacy group Algorithmic Justice League said, ‘The potential for weaponization and abuse of facial recognition technologies cannot be ignored, nor the threats to privacy or breaches of civil liberties diminished, even as accuracy disparities decrease.’

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: The Washington Post