But numbers continue to grow to total of seven million
More than 160,000 citizens have opted out of HM Revenue and Customs’ voice identification scheme, according to data released by the department under Freedom of Information rules.
In response to an FOI request from privacy advocacy group Big Brother, HMRC said that, as of 15 December, 162,185 users had requested to opt out of the voice ID scheme. In all cases, their voice imprints have been deleted, according to the department.
A further 87 have explicitly requested their data be deleted. Deletion has taken place for 85 of these accounts, with the department “awaiting further information from customers” in the other two cases.
Despite this, the number of users enrolled in the scheme has now swelled to almost seven million – an increase of almost two million since March 2018.
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HMRC faced criticism from Big Brother Watch last year after it emerged that the department had collected 5.1 million voiceprints of citizens under the basis of “implied consent”. Following a complaint lodged by the campaign group, the Information Commissioner’s Office launched an investigation and will announce its findings soon, according to Big Brother Watch.
In recent months the department has added to its automated helpline an option for callers to opt out of voice ID – something that was previously only possible via a direct request made to a call-centre agent. A Big Brother Watch investigation last year found that deletion was only possible if users filled out and returned an online form.
The group’s director Silkie Carlo said: 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.”
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Our VoiceID system is very popular with millions of customers as it gives a quick route to access accounts by phone. All our data is stored securely and customers can opt-out of Voice ID or delete their records any time they want. Seven million customers are using this system and only a very small percentage of customers have chosen to opt out.”