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IRS account facial ID still an option, but no longer required

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If you're not comfortable with facial identification being part of the Internal Revenue Service personal taxpayer account creation process, you've now got other options.

The tax agency, which earlier this month said it would end the controversial validation system used by contractor ID.me, says you can prove you are you via a live, virtual interview.

"No biometric data — including facial recognition — will be required if taxpayers choose to authenticate their identity through a virtual interview," the IRS said in its brief statement announcing the move.

Other ID OK options: Or you can wait until the IRS joins other federal agencies in using Login.Gov, the identity verification system created by the General Services Administration (GSA). That won't happen, however, until after the April 18 tax filing deadline.

Or if the facial ID isn't a concern, you still can use ID.me.

There is one change, though. The IRS says that images provided to the private company by taxpayers in order to create an IRS online account will be deleted.

Also, any existing biometric data that was previously collected from taxpayers who used ID.me will be permanently deleted over the course of the next few weeks.

Privacy concerns prompt changes: Taxpayers already were using ID.me, most notably to gain access to the IRS Child Tax Portal so they could make changes to the advance payments distributed last year. The IRS last fall announced plans to expand ID.me accounts to online taxpayer account creation and access to previously created accounts.

But when the McLean, Virginia-based company's use of facial recognition was more widely publicized earlier this year, privacy advocates and opponents of the biometric method mobilized.

The IRS got the message, loud and clear and quickly. A after the private company's facial recognition component received more attention, the IRS did an about face on the ID.me deal.

Short- and longer-term solutions: The facial recognition contretemps is the latest in a series of challenges the IRS is facing.

This filing season it still is digging out of the COVID-19 pandemic created communications backlog. This has exacerbated the IRS' long-standing customer service, or lack thereof, problems, notably telephone access.

To deal with the connection complaints, the IRS has been encouraging taxpayers to use electronic methods to resolve their tax issues. One way for taxpayers to do that is to create and check personal tax accounts online.

To ensure that such accounts are secure, the IRS turned to ID.me, signing a two-year, $86 million contract with the company. It seemed like a safe move. The company has been an approved federal government "credential service provider" since 2014. And there weren't any widespread complaints when it was required to access the Child Tax Credit Portal.

But that was then. Now, already facing grief for myriad other taxpayer service missteps, the IRS quickly capitulated to the facial recognition factor criticism.

Login.gov on the way: Many taxpayers likely will wait for the IRS to comply with GSA's Login.gov standards in a few months.

Millions of Americans already use Login.gov, the GSA's sign-in secure service that verified their identities so they can access to various federal websites. It is used by the Small Business Administration (SBA), Trusted Traveler Programs (TSA PreCheck and Global Entry) administered by the Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Personnel Management federal jobs listings.

The IRS said it is working with the GSA to ensure that Login.gov meets the tax agency's security requirements for use during next year's tax season.

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