Tax Voice ID scheme faces backlash as thousands delete Voice IDs

Big Brother Watch Team / January 25, 2019

  • HMRC’s Voice ID scheme replaces people’s passwords with their voices to unlock accounts
  • 7 million taxpayers now enrolled in HMRC’s controversial voice database
  • Since campaigners Big Brother Watch revealed the shady ID scheme, over 160,000 people have opted out, deleting their Voice IDs
  • HMRC is facing action from UK’s data watchdog ICO

HM Revenue and Customs’ controversial collection of millions of Voice IDs is facing a backlash, as thousands of taxpayers are opting out and deleting their Voice IDs.

Since a Big Brother Watch investigation in June 2018 revealed that HMRC had scooped up 5 million taxpayers’ Voice IDs without consent, new Freedom of Information requests reveal 162,185 people have opted out of the ID scheme and deleted their Voice IDs.

However, HMRC continues to take ‘voiceprints’ from callers to their helpline, scooping up another 2 million taxpayers’ Voice IDs in the past six months and growing the biometric database to an astronomical 7 million IDs.

Millions of callers to the tax helpline have been forced to repeat the phrase “My voice is my password”. The biometric pattern of each voice is recorded and stored to be used as a security check.

When the scheme launched, callers were not given the option to opt out and those who refused were repeatedly instructed by the automated line, “It’s important you repeat exactly the same phrase. Please say ‘My voice is my password.’”

HMRC’s gargantuan voiceprint database was discovered in an investigation by civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, which warned that taxpayers were being “railroaded into a mass ID scheme by the back door”.

The group launched a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) stating that taking callers’ Voice IDs without their consent is a breach of data protection rights.

The ICO launched an investigation and is soon to announce what form of action it will take.

In September 2018, the Chief Executive of HMRC Sir Jonathan Thompson was subjected to a grilling in parliament by Lee Rowley MP, who asked whether the giant voice database would be deleted, stating that it “breaks both GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and DPA (Data Protection Act).”

Until recently, HMRC did not allow callers to delete their Voice IDs, claiming that “there is no delete function”. In a document obtained by Big Brother Watch, HMRC stated that the private company working with HMRC, KCom, would “hold the data for a number of years”.

Following pressure from Big Brother Watch, HMRC’s automated helpline now asks callers whether they want to opt in or out of the ID scheme, leading to thousands of taxpayers opting out of the system and deleting their Voice IDs.

Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said:

“HMRC’s shady Voice ID scheme forced biometric IDs on the UK by the back door and created one of the largest known state-held voice databases in the world. It is a great success for us that HMRC has finally allowed taxpayers to delete their voiceprints and that so many thousands of people are reclaiming their rights by getting their Voice IDs deleted.

“Now it is down to the ICO to take robust action and show that the Government isn’t above the law. HMRC took millions of Voice IDs without taxpayers’ legal consent – the only satisfactory outcome is for those millions of Voice IDs to be deleted.”


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