NOBODY LIKES PHONING the HMRC helpline. It's an acknowledgement that the labyrinthine pages of rules and exemptions have bested you and the realisation that you're likely to be on hold for some time. Time which could be spent earning to save for next year's tax bill rather than staring at the wall and humming hold music.
To be entirely fair, anything the tax authority does to make life easier would be treated with suspicion - even when presented by that cartoon tax man who seems to have been retired - implementation of the Voice ID scheme was particularly misguided. When taxpayers phone up, they are encouraged to say the phrase "my voice is my password". Doing so adds their voice to a database allowing them to be identified without having to read the first line of their address, their phone number or their gerbil's middle name.
The problem with this? Until recently there was no way to opt out. If you refused to say "my voice is my password" like Winston Smith refusing to accept that 2+2=5, the recording would just repeat the same mantra: "It's important that you repeat exactly the same phrase. Please say ‘my voice is my password.'"
Thanks to this, some 7 million people ultimately relented and have their voice stored on HMRC servers. That's not ideal for a department once described as "woefully inadequate" at handling personal data. Around 80 people wrote to HMRC to be deleted from Voice ID.
HMRC has made the process easier after accusations it was breaking data protection law, and as a result it seems pretty clear that it wasn't just 80 people who were unhappy with the infringement on civil liberties. According to a Freedom of Information request from Big Brother Watch, by December 2018 162,185 people had opted out.
"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," said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo in a statement. 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."
Of course, 162,185 is a small fraction of the 7 million registered on the service: a point that HMRC grasped onto in a statement of its own: "Our Voice ID system is very popular with millions of customers as it gives a quick route to access accounts by phone."
That's kind of fair, although by similar logic you could also argue that paying tax is one of the nation's favourite hobbies as so many people do it. In a way, it's surprising they didn't. µ
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