Computer Weekly - HMRC begins deleting unlawful voice biometric

An extract from another interesting article from Warwick Ashford, Security Editor at Computer Weekly.  

HM Revenue and Customs is to forge ahead with Voice ID.

This is despite beginning to delete the largest state-held voice biometric database gathered without consent after UK privacy and data protection watchdog issues order.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has welcomed the prompt response by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to begin deleting voice data collected unlawfully from five million UK taxpayers, but HMRC plans to continue using the system despite the controversy.

The ICO ordered the data to be deleted after conducting an investigation into HMRC’s Voice ID service in response to a complaint from civil liberties and privacy campaigning non-profit organisation Big Brother Watch, which accused HMRC of building a biometic ID database by the back door.

The investigation focused on the use of voice authentication for customer verification on some of HMRC’s helplines since January 2017. The system was introduced to help speed up security checks for taxpayers using HMRC’s helpline by registering voice prints to confirm identity.

The ICO found HMRC had breached the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by failing to give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed and failing to give them the chance to give or withhold consent.

The ICO issued a preliminary enforcement notice to HMRC on 4 April 2019, stating the information commissioner’s initial decision to compel the department to delete all biometric data held under the Voice ID system for which it does not have explicit consent.

The ICO will issue its final enforcement notice this week, giving HMRC 28 days from the date of the notice to complete the deletion of all relevant records.

“We welcome HMRC’s prompt action to begin deleting personal data that it obtained unlawfully,” said Steve Wood, deputy commissioner at the ICO.

“Our investigation exposed a significant breach of data protection law. HMRC appears to have given little or no consideration to it with regard to its Voice ID service.

“Innovative digital services help make our lives easier, but it must not be at the expense of people’s fundamental right to privacy.

“Organisations must be transparent and fair and, when necessary, obtain consent from people about how their information will be used. When that doesn’t happen, the ICO will take action to protect the public.”

The ICO’s investigation was carried out under the GDPR, which came into full force on 25 May 2018. Under the GDPR, biometric data is considered special category information and is subject to stricter conditions.

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo described the ICO’s decision as a “massive success for Big Brother Watch, restoring data rights for millions of ordinary people around the country”.

She added: “To our knowledge, this is the biggest ever deletion of biometric IDs from a state-held database. It sets a vital precedent for biometrics collection and the database state, showing that campaigners and the ICO have real teeth and no government department is above the law.”

Computer Weekly - HMRC begins deleting unlawful voice biometric.