Statement from the Information Commissioner’s Office following investigation of a complaint involving Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC):
An ICO investigation into HMRC’s Voice ID service was prompted by a complaint from Big Brother Watch about the department’s conduct. The investigation focused on the use of voice authentication for customer verification on some of HMRC’s helplines since January 2017.
The ICO found that HMRC failed to give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed and failed to give them the chance to give or withhold consent. This is a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation.
The ICO issued a preliminary enforcement notice to HMRC on April 4, 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 next week giving HMRC 28 days from that date to complete deletion of relevant records.
Steve Wood, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, said:
“We welcome HMRC’s prompt action to begin deleting personal data that it obtained unlawfully. 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, new rules that came into force last year. Under the GDPR, biometric data is considered special category information and is subject to stricter conditions.