As tax season gets started, tax filers may need more than just patience to deal with the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS is now asking–soon requiring–that taxpayers provide a selfie to verify their identity so that they can access their accounts, pay tax bills online, and access other important services.

This new measure is aimed at preventing fraud but raises a number of other concerns. Combatting fraud is an important priority, but Americans need to question the tradeoffs and whether there is a better way. 

Here’s the story

Late last year, the IRS announced that it would expand the number of services that would require a new type of digital verification. Instead of developing an in-house tool, the IRS outsourced verification to a private company, “to ensure that taxpayer information is only provided to the person who has a legal right to the data.”

Taxpayers are currently asked to create an account, but they can still access online services with previous IRS credentials. However, by this summer–no date announced–everyone will have to transition to sign-in.

To verify their identity with, taxpayers will have to provide a photo ID such as a driver’s license, state ID, or passport AND a selfie taken with a smartphone or computer webcam. uses facial recognition technology from the selfie to confirm a taxpayer’s identity.

This company has been around for some time and its technology has been employed by other federal agencies as well as over two dozen states.

What are the concerns?

First, beginning with the government, the IRS collects plenty of personal data including names, addresses, social security numbers, and financial information. The idea that we may have to turn over our images as well probably doesn’t sit well with many taxpayers. Especially since government agencies have a history of being hacked and ”rogue” IRS agents engaged in harassment of political adversaries and donors.  

Their response may be that bureaucrats aren’t collecting our selfies but a third-party vendor. That raises a second and significant concern: data privacy. Can this company ensure that the incredible amount of personal data it will gain access to will not fall into the wrong hands? Privacy advocates on the left and the right share angst over this.

Even if is meticulous about protecting people’s data, its software is far from perfect. In states, people report problems with the technology failing to authenticate them, impeding them from accessing unemployment benefits. Colorado actually reported a 40-percent drop in unemployment claims after rolling out It’s a great sign if the new verification system weeded out scammers posing as workers to fraudulently claim their benefits. It’s not if prevented workers from legitimately claiming their benefits. 

Others worry that the digital divide could prevent poor and digitally disconnected citizens from accessing government services.

In addition, facial recognition software suffers from general concerns that they produce incorrect results especially among minorities. Inaccuracy with facial-recognition verification software goes beyond skin color–which the company claims is not an issue for them–but to general physical changes that occur due to aging, elective procedures, accidents, and even gender transitions. Can the technology adapt to, for example, a tragic disfigurement from surviving a fire? 

Bottom line

The IRS deserves a lot of credit for taking fraud seriously and finding new methods to stay ahead of scammers. (Many people defrauded the federal government and states during the pandemic because processes weren’t in place or were relaxed to get money out of the door as quickly as possible.)

However, selfie verification is fraught with concerns that should be addressed well before the agency mandates it for every taxpayer. Congress should weigh in.