IRS nixes ‘selfie’ requirement for tax info after backlash – National & International News – TUE 8Feb2022



IRS nixes ‘selfie’ requirement for tax info after backlash. Urgent action needed after 100,000 opioid deaths last year. Macron’s Russian diplomacy raises eyebrows.




IRS nixes ‘selfie’ requirement for tax info after backlash

Yesterday, reports surfaced that the IRS would be requiring tax payers seeking certain tax information to submit photos of their faces. Following widespread criticism from members of the public and privacy advocates, the IRS now says it will be doing away with the requirement.

The IRS allows tax payers to create accounts to access past returns or to get information about child tax credit payments. The agency has contracted with ID.Me., a private corporation, to administer its identification verification function for these accounts. ID.Me was requesting ‘selfies’ from users to allow for verification with its facial recognition software.

Critics raised concerns over privacy, the potential for leaks of sensitive data, and having private citizens’ biometric data in a corporate database. Moreover, experts say existing facial recognition tech is itself flawed. For example, facial recognition AIs have difficulty distinguishing among non-white individuals due to programming biases. 

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Urgent action needed after 100,000 opioid deaths last year

A bipartisan Congressional commission has called for urgent steps to combat a growing epidemic of opioid deaths. Since 1999, more than a million Americans have died from opioid overdoses, over 100,000 of them just last year. A recent Lancet study warns without an effective mitigation strategy, another 1.2 million will die in the next 7 years

The trend began when pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, makers of OxyContin, began more aggressively and deceptively marketing their opiate-based pain medications. In recent years, restrictions on opioid prescriptions have somewhat tamped down medication abuse. Now, both casual and habitual drug users are increasingly turning to illicit drugs like heroin. But a new threat has arisen as drug dealers have begun adulterating their product with powerful and cheap synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is both deadlier and more addictive than heroin. Even a small amount of fentanyl can cause death in a matter of minutes.

The panel offered 76 recommendations to mitigate the opioid crisis both from the supply and demand sides. Supply side recommendations include greater monitoring of imports and improving cooperation with source countries. On the demand side, the panel called for more public education and distribution of test strips that allow users to check whether their drugs are tainted with fentanyl. The panel did not endorse opening more medically-supervised drug injection and consumption sites, despite their proven effectiveness in saving lives. While supervised consumption sites are common in Canada and elsewhere, a site that opened in New York last year is the only one in the U.S.

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Macron’s Russian diplomacy raises eyebrows

French President Emmanuel Macron sat down yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a 5-hour long conversation on Ukraine. He is now on his way to Kyev for a sit down with President Volodymyr Zelensky. With U.S.-led diplomatic efforts flagging, Macron seems eager to step into the breach with the ambitious goal of forging an understanding between Russia and the West.

But Macron’s comments following his conversation with Putin have raised eyebrows and some alarm bells in Europe and the U.S. Firstly, Macron claimed that he had extracted a pledge from Putin not to escalate military tensions with the Ukraine. Russian officials were quick to refute this assertion. Another statement raised concerns that Macron was advocating a policy of appeasement regarding Russia’s demands for a scaled-back NATO presence in Eastern Europe. Specifically, Macron stated that, “There is no security for Europeans if there is no security for Russia”.

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