The renowned UK tax agency HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) has been secretly collecting the voice records of more than 5.1 million Brits. This shocking revelation was given by Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties and privacy group which is based in the UK. Reportedly, these voice records were collected by HMRC through its new service that was launched in January of 2017. The group has also surprisingly admitted to not seeking permission of storing the callers’ distinct ‘voice prints’.
According to the data watchdogs, HMRC has been misleading users into providing their voice samples. When its official website was launched, HMRC claimed that the callers will be given the option of opting out of this feature when they call HMRC support line. According to them, they would be able to prove and authenticate their identity through the normal methods. However, the investigation by Big Brother Watch has revealed that there is in fact no opting out option feature when calling HMRC support line. In reality, all the callers were being forced to record their voice track while using the Voice ID Service by saying the phrase, ‘My voice is my password’. Supposedly, their voice was to be used as a password for unlocking their account later when they called back. The way to avoid creating a caller voice track was by saying ‘no’ thrice during the process of voice track creation. However, this technique was not revealed to the callers and Big Brother Watch investigators discovered it on their own.
Privacy campaigners have been arguing against this quite a lot and are concerned that this would cause the accounts of the tax payers vulnerable to privacy breaches. According to Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch director, ‘Taxpayers are being railroaded into a mass ID scheme that is incredibly disturbing. The taxman is building Big Brother Britain by imposing biometric ID cards on the public by the back door. The rapid growth of the British database state is alarming.”
On the other hand, HMRC spokesperson says that this voice system is meant to uphold safety standards. He claimed that this technique was ‘popular with customers’ because it gave a secure and quick route to the callers into their accounts.
Privacy campaigners continue to argue that the tax company has broken the law by not providing the callers with a simple way of opting out of recording their voice tracks. It is also alarming because the callers cannot have their voice patterns removed from the company’s database in any way once their voice track is recorded. Even upon several requests, HMRC was not ready to reveal how these voice tracks could be deleted and with which parties are these voice tracks shared.