One thing we have learned over the past few years is that people are not comfortable with the idea of public biometric information. Whether it's Disney collecting fingerprints for pass holders or law enforcement scanning faces, people are not about it. But, despite the very public and loud backlash over the topic, we still see biometric data being collected for a lot of systems. The most recent comes to us care of the US federal government, in particular the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), who will begin requiring the use of facial recognition systems soon.
What is biometric data?
Biometric data is any kind of identifying information that can be used to track or identify an individual. This includes facial recognition, fingerprints, voiceprints, retinal scans, and more. In the past biometric data was often used for criminal investigations or in high-security settings. However, with the advent of social media and other online platforms, it has become much more common for companies to collect this type of data from their users.
Facebook is a great example of this. The site has long collected facial recognition data - even from people who do not have Facebook accounts. They use this data to help tag friends in photos and videos. While many people are uncomfortable with Facebook having access to such personal information, they continue to use the site because it is so convenient. Fortunately, the company has announced the end of this program.
The IRS's biometric plan
The IRS has announced that, starting this summer, all users of the IRS.gov website will need to enroll in a third-party facial recognition system. This includes users who have already registered and used the system with a username and password. The new registration will require the user to upload a valid government issued ID, a utility bill with your name on it, and a selfie. The selfie will need to be a short video, which is going to cause problems for some users who have older hardware or do not have access to a webcam. ID.me is the platform of choice, which has been used by several states for other services, like welfare.
Once enrolled, your face will be scanned each time you log in to IRS.gov. This will ensure that you are who you say you are and that your tax information is not being accessed by someone else.
The IRS has been slowly moving towards this type of verification system for a few years now. In 2017, they began requiring taxpayers to provide their Social Security number (SSN) when filing taxes online. While this was an important step in ensuring the security of taxpayer data, it did not go far enough. SSNs can be stolen and used fraudulently, but facial recognition cannot be faked as easily.
Why biometric verification?
There are a few reasons why the IRS might want to move to a biometric verification system. The first is safety - they want to make sure that taxpayer data is not being accessed by unauthorized individuals. The second is convenience - with biometric verification, taxpayers will no longer have to remember usernames and passwords. And the third is fraud prevention. With facial recognition, it will be much harder for people to file taxes under someone else's name.
While many people are unhappy about this change, there is no doubt that it is necessary. The IRS has been dealing with a lot of tax fraud in recent years, and they need to take steps to ensure that this stops. Biometric verification is one of the best ways to do this, and we can expect to see more systems using it in the future.