Say cheese! The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants you to send self-portraits to a facial recognition firm

Plus, what the US should do about Ukraine, the geriatric music business in the United States, and more...

"No Identity Left Behind." Americans who want to access tax return transcripts, check on child tax credits, or do other tasks through the IRS website will have to turn over their image to a facial recognition company called ID.me.

To get verified through ID.me, a person must "provide a photo of an identity document such as a driver's license, state ID or passport" and "take a selfie with a smartphone or a computer with a webcam," the IRS website explains.

"The IRS emphasizes taxpayers can pay or file their taxes without submitting a selfie or other information to a third-party identity verification company," an IRS spokesperson said.

But that's not so for tasks like accessing tax account information—including your tax records—online, using the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, setting up an online payment plan, or getting an identity protection pin. And "additional IRS applications will transition to the new method over the next year," the agency says.

The IRS began rolling out the new requirement for child tax credit accounts last summer. It will be needed for all IRS online service accounts by this summer (existing online account credentials will no longer work). "The new process is one more step the IRS is taking to ensure that taxpayer information is provided only to the person who legally has a right to the data," states the IRS website.

Of course, entrusting sensitive information to ID.me—such as Social Security numbers and ID documents—raises the chance of it being exposed due to security breaches and the company's own regulations.

ID.me has a rather broad set of criteria under which it can disclose your information.

"Information we receive about you can be accessed and preserved for an extended period when it is the subject of a legal request or obligation, governmental investigation, or investigations of possible violations of our terms or policies, criminal and other investigations, or otherwise to prevent harm," states its privacy policy (emphasis mine).

We access, preserve and share your information with regulators, government agencies, law enforcement and other third parties if we have a good faith belief:

  • It is required to meet or comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process, or enforceable governmental request (like a search warrant, discovery request in a civil proceeding, court order or subpoena).
  • It is necessary to investigate, detect, prevent and address fraud, suspected or actual prohibited activities, unauthorized use of the ID.Me Service, violations of our Terms of Service or policies, or other harmful, criminal or illegal activity.
  • It is necessary to protect ourselves (including our rights, property or the ID.Me Service), you or others, including as part of investigations or regulatory inquiries or in response to requests from law enforcement; or to prevent financial loss, property damage, death or imminent bodily harm."

When it comes to security, ID.me points out that "There is no way to ensure that data transmitted over the Internet or any wireless network is completely safe. As a result, while we take commercially reasonable security measures to protect data and work with service providers who do the same, we cannot guarantee the security of any information transmitted to or from the Website, and we are not responsible for the actions of any third parties who may receive such information."

In a press release (which touts something the company calls its "No Identity Left Behind initiative"), ID.me CEO and founder Blake Hall said, "privacy is core to our mission and we do not sell the personal information of our users."

tl;dr IRS trying to fight fraud so they're forcing Americans who want to get tax data from the IRS online to submit biometric data in the form of a selfie (to a third-party company) to verify themselves.

This is very, very bad, and every tech-aware American should fight it. https://t.co/uigvLVS1Zj

— Jackie◎ (@hackingbutlegal) January 20, 2022

FREE MINDS

With Russia potentially preparing to invade Ukraine, the Biden administration is threatening more economic sanctions against Russia and has sent two shipments of weapons to Ukraine. (Surely, none of those will get in the wrong hands…). Still, some on the right are accusing President Joe Biden of being weak. But what more would they actually have him do?

A lot of critics' pronouncements about what should be done are vague/platitudes ("we simply need to let Putin know that the United States stands with our Ukrainian friends," Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst told ABC's This Week on Sunday) or stress steps Biden has taken or is considering taking. The real aim seems to be scoring political points, using a pending war across the globe as yet another opportunity to trash the Biden administration. But while there are plenty of things to criticize the administration for, not being more hawkish toward Russia-Ukraine is certainly not one of them.

Whether reasonable responses will prevail in the face of all this is unclear. The New York Times reported yesterday that "Biden is considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, an expansion of American military involvement amid mounting fears of a Russian incursion into Ukraine."

More Ukraine-related commentary and news:

FREE MARKETS

America's geriatric music market. Information from music analytics firm MRC Data shows that 70 percent of the U.S. music market is composed of old songs. And "the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking," notes The Atlantic.

All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.

The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.

QUICK HITS

Mapping Police Violence just released a report finding 2021 was one of the *worst years for deadly police violence on record.* See the report at https://t.co/stp7V46Jms. Here are some of the key findings from our analysis (1/x)… pic.twitter.com/SMzDDNtMUa

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) January 21, 2022

• America is bombing a Syrian prison where hundreds of kids are housed.

• Older women share tales of abortion in a pre–Roe v. Wade world. (Saturday marked the 49th anniversary of that decision.)

• How cryptocurrency is helping Afghan families.

• "No, there were no litter boxes on school grounds for students to use if they identified as furries": The rumor was bred by people opposed to unisex bathrooms in Michigan schools.

• West Virginia is doubling down on fentanyl myths.

• Legislation in Florida would ban schools from discussions of sexuality and gender identity.

• When people are symptomatic and have high viral loads, rapid tests are proving about as effective at detecting omicron as they were other COVID-19 variants. But tests may not be as effective at picking up on omicron more generally.

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