Taxes

How to Register on the IRS Website Without Taking a Video Selfie

After backlash, the IRS has added a way to verify your identity without facial recognition.

Critics of ID.me raised concerns about a private company collecting biometric data on millions of Americans.
ID.me

This story is part of Taxes 2022, CNET's coverage of the best tax software and everything else you need to get your return filed quickly, accurately and on-time.

The Internal Revenue Service will allow now taxpayers to sign up for online accounts without recording a video selfie or providing other biometric data. The decision, announced Feb. 21, comes following criticism by privacy advocates over ID.me, the third-party facial-recognition service contracted to verify identities on the IRS website.

Taxpayers will still need to use ID.me to register for an online IRS account -- but they can now verify their identity in a live online interview with an ID.me agent, according to the IRS. 

The interview option doesn't use facial recognition and no biometric data is analyzed, the agency added. It is recorded, but the video is deleted after 30 days.

Visitors can still opt for biometric verification through ID.me's faster self-service tool, however. 

Read on to learn more about the ID.me signup process, including how to register with and without a video selfie. 

For more, learn when to file your taxes, how to choose the best tax prep software for 2022 and how you could get a bigger tax refund this year due to the expanded child care tax credit.

Why did the IRS back away from the ID.me facial-recognition program?

The IRS announced in early February it was abandoning a facial-recognition requirement, after House Representatives sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting that the agency stop using ID.me's technology. 

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, similarly posted a letter to the IRS urging a course reversal and Republican senators led by Idaho's Mike Crapo also questioned the IRS' use of facial-recognition technology.

The IRS had originally announced in November 2021 that everyone who wants to use most IRS services online -- including viewing and making payments, updating a mailing address and accessing the Child Tax Credit Update Portal -- would need to register through ID.me with a video selfie. 

Older IRS accounts created before ID.me was contracted were expected to be forced to transition to ID.me by summer 2022.

But privacy advocates expressed concerns about a nongovernmental company collecting biometric data on millions of Americans, as well as reported racial and gender biases in the proprietary facial recognition technology. 

In addition to the new interview option, individuals who already registered with ID.Me will be able to delete their video selfie starting Mar. 1, the IRS said.

id-me1

Taxpayers can now choose to submit a video selfie or be interviewed by an ID.Me agent.

Screenshot/CNET

How do I register with ID.me without taking a video selfie?

On Feb. 22, the IRS announced taxpayers would not be required to use ID.me's facial recognition program and could verify their account with an online interview with an ID.me representative.

Working with an agent requires at least two primary identification documents and the current wait for a live agent is roughly an hour. (The full list of acceptable documentation can be found on the ID.me website.)

Your interview will be recorded, but according to ID.Me, the video will be deleted after 30 days.

What is the self-service process for an ID.me account?

If you decide to submit to ID.Me's facial recognition program, you'll need the following:

  • Your Social Security number (you do not need the physical card)
  • A driver's license, US passport, or US passport card 
  • A smartphone or computer with a camera

1. Visit the "Your Online Account" page on the IRS website and click the button marked Sign in to your online account. You'll be given the option of creating a new ID.me account or signing in to an existing account. Click the white ID.me Create an account button to start the registration process.

2. Next, enter your email address and choose a strong password. ID.me requires that passwords be eight characters or longer with at least one capital letter, one lowercase letter and one number. Confirm your password, click the check box to accept ID.me's terms and conditions and then click Create account.

3. ID.me will then send you a message to confirm your email address. Check your inbox for an email from ID.me, then click on the blue Confirm your email button in the message. Return to your browser.

4. Next you'll need to enable multifactor authentication -- a second step to prove it's actually you each time you sign in with your ID.me password. Most people will probably opt for a text message or phone call to their mobile phones. After selecting your MFA option, enter the six-digit code sent to you by ID.me and click Continue. You'll need to use this step every time you log in to your online IRS account.

5. Now you'll need to add pictures of your photo ID. You can upload photos or take pictures with your phone. You'll need to choose one of three acceptable ID options: US passport book, state driver's license or US passport card. Upload pictures of both the front and back of your driver's license or passport. If you'd like to take new pictures of your document with your phone, enter your phone number and ID.me will send you a link.

iOS 14 camera mirror selfies

After uploading a copy of your driver's license, passport or other government-issued identification, you can take a video selfie to continue registering with ID.me.

Patrick Holland/CNET

6. After uploading your document, you take and upload a video selfie with your phone or computer camera. If you want to use your webcam, click the white Take a selfie with my webcam button. If you want to use your phone, click the blue Take a selfie with my phone button and enter your phone number and ID.me will text you a message with a link.

7. When taking your video selfie, be sure to position your phone in portrait mode and move your head very close to the camera. The background will flash different colors as it scans your face. When you see a green check mark, your video selfie is complete. Click Continue and return to your original browser window.

8. Next confirm your Social Security number by entering it and clicking Continue. 

9. ID.me will now present a summary of your personal information, including name, address and phone number. Confirm that everything is correct, check the "Fair Credit Reporting Act" check box and click Continue.

10. After confirming your identity, ID.me will send you a text message asking you to explicitly allow the IRS access. Although you won't need to register with ID.me again, you will need to "allow" every service you want to use it with, such as Social Security or VA.

11. Click Allow and continue on the ID.me message to send verification to the IRS.

12. Your IRS online account is now complete and active. The IRS logs you out of your account fairly quickly, so you'll likely need to visit the Your Online Account page to log in (with MFA) each time you want to use your IRS online account.

Is the ID.me facial-recognition program secure?

Following concerns raised in January by privacy and security journalist Brian Krebs, ID.me issued a statement saying it was dedicated to consumer privacy and reiterated that it does not sell users' biometrics or personal information.

"We are committed to ensuring everyone can verify their identity online and use it to access essential services," ID.me founder Blake Hall said in the release. "Our 1:1 face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. ID.me does not use 1:many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic."

But critics worry the government was making a private business the gatekeeper of highly confidential information. 

"This announcement signals one of the largest expansions of facial recognition technology in the US and there is no question that it will harm peoples' privacy," Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director at Fight For the Future, told Axios.

While ID.me said it doesn't sell personal info to other corporations, it does retain the right to share it with the police and other government agencies.

There are also concerns that the system often misidentifies women, people of color and gender-nonconforming individuals -- and that the need for a smartphone or webcam-enabled computer creates undue hurdles for economically disadvantaged Americans, seniors and other groups.

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Facial-recognition systems have repeatedly been criticized for failing to correctly identify people of color. 

Coded Bias

According to Seeley George, when ID.me was used for state unemployment benefits, many people reported problems with the system.

In the release, Hall said ID.me's research found no disparity based on skin color and, as part of the company's "No Identity Left Behind" initiative, video chat agents are available as a backup. There are more than 650 in-person identity verification locations throughout the US, with agents fluent in more than a dozen languages.  

"When using an ID.me Login, users can trust that they remain in control over their personal information," he said, "and have assurance against the improper or fraudulent use of their personal information being used to access any affiliated sites."

An ID.me "Privacy Bill of Rights" is available on the company's website.

What else is ID.me used for besides setting up an IRS account?

ID.me is an "identity-proofing" company launched in 2010 to support the US military in verifying the identity of service members. It was approved by the federal government as a credential service provider in 2014 and has since been used by a number of government agencies. The IRS launched a pilot program for ID.me in 2017 and has expanded the service greatly since. 

Along with verifying identity for the IRS, ID.me is used by 27 states to access unemployment benefits and other programs, more than 500 retailers and federal agencies such as Social Security and Veterans' Affairs.

Once you have confirmed your identity with ID.me, you will have access to all of the state and federal online services that use it.

States Current Using ID.me Verification

Arizona California Colorado Delaware Florida
Georgia Idaho Indiana Kentucky Louisiana
Maine  Massachusetts Mississippi Missouri Montana
Nevada New Jersey New York North Carolina North Dakota
Oregon Pennsylvania South Carolina Texas Virginia
Washington Wyoming