Thousands of disgruntled taxpayers have told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to delete biometric data acquired through telephone conversations.
More than 160,000 people have contacted HMRC to opt out of its Voice ID system, which was launched in 2017.
Privacy rights group Big Brother Watch said taxpayers had been “railroaded into a mass ID scheme by the back door”, as the system failed to offer people no easy method through which to opt out.
When the scheme launched, callers who refused to opt in were repeatedly instructed by an automated line to say “My voice is my password”, according to Big Brother Watch.
An investigation by the privacy rights group in June last year revealed that HMRC had gathered more than five million taxpayers’ voice IDs without consent.
Despite a significant number of people opting out of the scheme, Big Brother Watch said HMRC “continues to take ‘voiceprints’ from callers to the helpline, scooping up another 2 million taxpayers’ voice IDs in the past six months.”
The group said that the tax service’s “growing biometric database” now contains around seven million IDs – making it “one of the largest state-held voice databases in the world.”
Silkie Carlo, Director at Big Brother Watch 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 deleted their voiceprints and that so many thousands of people are reclaiming their rights by getting their Voice IDs deleted.”
Carlo confirmed that Big Brother Watch has reported HMRC to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), suggesting it had violated data protection regulations.
“Now it is down to the ICO to take robust action and show that the Government isn’t above the law,” he said. “HMRC took millions of Voice IDs without taxpayers’ legal consent – the only satisfactory outcome is for those millions of Voice IDs to be deleted.”
A spokesperson for HMRC commented: “Our Voice ID 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 at any time they want.”
HMRC said it would cooperate with the ICO, which is carrying out an investigation to establish whether or not the tax service breached data protection regulations.