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Voice biometrics improving Australian Taxation Office call center service


After launching its voice biometric authentication service in 2014, the Australian Taxation Office has enrolled nearly three million taxpayers for the service to make it one of the most successful initiatives across the federal government, according to a report by IT News.

Developed by Nuance to improve the ATO’s call center experience, the service has since expanded to the ATO mobile app, and could ultimately be incorporated into the whole-of-government GovPass identity platform being developed by the Digital Transformation Agency.

Venetia Blackman, acting digital program assistant commissioner at Australian Taxation Office, said the service has played a key role in the agency’s broader digital transformation efforts to help citizens file their tax and superannuation affairs.

“We were looking for a secure, fast and easy way for our clients to authenticate and voice biometrics technology met these needs,” Blackman said. “The ATO recognised that clients don’t want to be on a call for longer than they need to, but we needed to ensure that convenience and ease of access is effectively balanced with our mutual need for security.”

The multi-factor authentication service provides the ATO with a confidence-based score, instead of the standard yes/no response of typical authentication methods.

“Where the other factors of authentication may be replicated or stolen – something you have and something you know such as a username and password – biometrics, including voice, are something you are and are therefore not able to be easily replicated or easily stolen,” Blackman said.

The voiceprint-based service includes several different markers to establish identity and is affected by the user’s unique physiological characteristics. The solution captures the citizen’s voiceprint once they enroll in the service and stores it on the ATO’s voiceprint database.

For the app, the system prompts the individual to say a specific passphrase (“in Australia my voice identifies me”), while in the contract center the solution establishes the user’s identity through natural conversation.

In the past two years, the number of people enrolled to use the voiceprint technology has increased from 760,000 to 2.9 million, with a million of the signups occurring during the 2016-17 financial year.

If it maintains its current enrollment pace, the service will reach four million by the end of 2018, which would make it one of Australia’s most successful government IT initiatives to be launched in recent years.

The increasing number of voiceprints has enabled the ATO to reduce the number of average call time between a citizen and the contact centre by around 45 seconds per call, according to ATO.

Although the ATO will not confirm whether the voice biometrics service will be one of the methods of authentication that will be offered under the whole-of-government GovPass digital identity platform, it said it is working alongside with the DTA to design and develop the platform.

The ATO previously said that its voiceprint database may become a whole-of-government database in the future.

The whole-of-government solution is already expected to incorporate the Attorney-General’s Department-developed face verification service (FVS) which matches an individual’s facial image against citizenship and visa images held by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Earlier this month, the Australian Payments Network released its 2016 Australian Payments Fraud Data Report, which revealed that recent increases in card fraud have largely been driven by identity theft and large scale data breaches through malware or phishing attacks.

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