The US IRS has plans to use a 3rd party identification system to prevent tax-related identity theft. The IRS plans to contract with ID.me to identify people using, among other factors, face recognition. James Hendler, professor of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences, wrote about some issues with the IRS’s plan.
How will the data be processed?
ID.me would need to store information we give them on their servers. What happens if these servers become compromised? Names, passwords, Social Security numbers, birth dates, pictures of faces, and much more would certainly be on these servers. This puts all-important personally identifying info (PII) in one spot and makes it a high-value target for nation-state threat actors. This wouldn’t be a problem if the data wasn’t stored on ID.me servers but locally on your computer, but that isn’t an option.
Will it work for everyone?
ID.me will need to come up an alternate way to identify a person without the use of face recognition. Face recognition still fails to identify a person correctly sometimes, and even if it’s just a tiny percent of the time, you still need an alternative factor when facial recognition fails. In this case, a representative from ID.me will video conference with the person, but what if that also fails? Our own research shows that accuracy in face recognition of men tends to be higher than women. This could create more problems with recognizing some groups of the population over others.
One might compare this to a password manager but in a password manager you provide only the password or a token, not anything that could easily ascertain your identity. We like to see the use of good authentication, but this method authenticates a person’s identity, not just the persona they have online. MIT AI researcher Joy Buolamwini wrote, “Government pressure on citizens to share their biometric data with the government affects all of us – no matter your race, gender, or political affiliations.”
We should address tax-related identity theft but not at the expense of a weak security model or government pressure to identify yourself with an ID that requires you to share personal data instead of a token. We need alternative options to identify ourselves for tax purposes.