The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has stated plans to turn on voice authentication to verify customer identities by the end of December at the latest.
It's possible that voice authentication could be turned on much sooner--by the end of this financial year on 30 June--but this is less likely, ATO assistant commissioner John Dardo told the Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific Conference in Sydney.
"We're in tests. We have some minor defects we're working through. We have meetings every Friday for the next couple of weeks and we hope to do a technical deployment in the next three weeks, four weeks at the most."
With call centre demand set to spike July 1 after the end of financial year, Dardo said he will have to review the technical deployment and make a decision in the next few weeks about whether to turn on voice authentication for everyone before tax time.
"The safe answer is in December" for full deployment, he said. "Because if we miss 30 June, I'm not going to turn it on in the middle of tax time. I can't sacrifice lodgement season for voice authentication."
The implementation of voice biometrics is part of a digital initiative started by the ATO 12 to 18 months ago.
"Voice authentication is particularly attractive to us because it allows us to say that somebody doesn't have to be tied to a specific device," said Dardo. As long as the user's device is voice-enabled, the ATO can do voice authentication, he said.
Also, voice works well for authentication when ATO is making outbound calls to customers, he said. Currently, ATO staff can't actually tell the customer why they are calling until they collect a range of details including date of birth, bank account details and other personal information.
For the less trusting customer, he joked, this procedure can sometimes sound like a scam.
"We need to move away from that," he said. "Voice authentication in a passive mode allows us to ... have a quick conversation about the weather or the footy and by then we know enough to start divulging material about his account."
Dardo said the backend of phone calls to ATO is quite advanced. But at 47 seconds, the front-end process of verify users' identities is too long and tedious, he said.
"Bob's always going to be Bob, and that's actually the key to how we solve this issue," said Dardo.
Dardo stressed he is not advocating for mandatory identification system like Australia Card.
"But what I am saying is that if Bob chooses to use an identifier and chooses to connect that identifier to other identifiers in the matrix or chooses to federate them, or chooses to use one for all, then Bob should have the choice to do that."