The Power of the Free Press
February 9, 2022
A few weeks back, I wrote about a new initiative announced by the Internal Revenue Service to begin requiring visitors to its website to register with third party app, ID.me — providing their email address, Social Security number, photo ID and take a “selfie” so their face can be scanned to ensure they are who they say they are.
Because many red flags were swirling, in my opinion, over this issue, I promised to bring up the matter with our Senators at the next available opportunity. I got that opportunity last Thursday during a monthly press call with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).
After learning of this issue, he immediately sent off a letter to the IRS about the new initiative.
“This was a bad idea from the beginning, and I’m being very generous when I say ‘bad idea,’” Tester wrote in the letter. “The IRS has absolutely no business requiring facial recognition software on anything, but especially not when it comes to allowing Montana taxpayers to access services. This is the kind of garbage that drives me crazy, and I will be holding the IRS’s feet to the fire to make sure they follow through on their commitment to drop the required use of facial recognition data.”
While verification through ID.me would not have been required when people file their tax return this spring, it would have been required for other services accessed through IRS.gov, raising serious concerns among privacy advocates, Tester noted.
“I’m deeply troubled by recent reports suggesting the IRS is considering using facial recognition to access online accounts though its private contractor ID.me,” Tester wrote. “While I recognize the importance of cybersecurity and identity verification, I strongly believe using facial recognition is an unnecessary privacy violation. That’s why I urge you to consider alternative methods to secure online accounts.”
Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) also got involved with challenging the IRS proposal, although I did not speak with his office directly.
Following a Daines push, it was announced today that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not be following through with their plan to use a facial recognition program to verify Montanans’ identity when logging into online accounts.
“This was a terrible and invasive idea from the get-go that would’ve put taxpayers’ privacy and identities at risk,” Daines said. “Montanans shouldn’t have to provide biometric data to access their own tax info. Glad the IRS listened to my concerns & backed down from this absurd plan."
Two weeks ago, Daines demanded answers from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on the plan to work with a private company, ID.me, to verify facial ID when taxpayers log in to IRS’ online resources.
The IRS, on Feb. 7, announced it had reversed course on its decision to use the third party app, thanks to efforts by our two senators and the media who brought the program to the attention of the public.
This was a great example of the power of the press to hold government accountable and to preserve civil liberties.