Voice ID

by | September 21, 2020

Reading time: 6 minutes

Can we identify citizens who call the government with their own voice? That is the question that we are trying to answer in a joint experiment together with Digicampus. These are the findings so far.

What is Voice ID?

Millions of calls are made to the government every year. Various government organizations experience it as a hindrance that they cannot help people with a personal request for help through this channel. There is no good way to verify the identity of a caller. In some cases, control questions are used. But the answers to this are often known in the area or easy to find. We are therefore looking for a solution that offers more security and at the same time is easy to use for, among other things, digitally less skilled.  

Voice ID (voice recognition) is one of the solutions we are investigating. It is used by the government in Australia and New Zealand, among others, to provide services by telephone.

Why are we doing this?

Your voice is unique. With Voice ID you use these unique, biometric characteristics to record a kind of 'voice print'. This can then be used to verify the caller's identity. We think that Voice ID can make government services more inclusive, partly because it can be used well by fewer digital skills. Naturally, we must test this assumption. We also know that Voice ID is not suitable for everyone, for example for people with speech or hearing problems. We are therefore not looking for a one-size-fits-all solution, but an extra option for people who prefer telephone contact over a web portal.  

Flash poll

What do the Dutch think of Voice ID? To gain insight into this, we conducted an online flash poll. In July 2020, we shared an online questionnaire via LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. This was completed by 966 respondents. 

38% of the respondents is open to the use of Voice ID. 63% said it knew what it is. This is a nice score for a technology that is still fairly new. In addition, 47% says it expects voice recognition to be easy to use.

The current method, in which in some cases use is made of control questions, is seen by the respondents as the easiest and safest way. Additional research is needed to understand why this is so. It may have to do with the relative unfamiliarity of Voice ID, but it may also be due to certain perceptions or experiences. Ultimately, this kind of in-depth information is necessary to understand within which preconditions you could deploy a technology such as Voice ID. 

Should we want this?

Just because something is technically possible does not mean it is a good idea. That is why we entered into discussions with people from within and outside the government about the moral and social aspects that play a role in using Voice ID. We did this with a proven method: a Moral Impact Assessment.

Based on a number of steps, we have collected opportunities, concerns and perspectives for action, for example with regard to the possible social effects of Voice ID.

In the first round of discussions, we collected more than 100 post its! With the help of voting buttons, we have put together a top 5. We got to work on this in the in-depth discussion round.

Top 5:

  • Danger of function creep
  • Danger of voice imitation
  • The next step towards a surveillance society.
  • More chance of ID fraud.
  • And in a positive sense: an alternative channel for people who cannot operate a computer properly.

The next step is to look at the values that are considered important around this technology. You should see a value as something that we as a society find important to safeguard or promote.

The main values are:

  • Privacy
  • Inclusivity
  • Safety
  • Equality
  • Trust
  • Freedom

Prospects for action and follow-up research

Together we then devised action perspectives for the most important effects and values. What could we do to rule out the negative effects, exploit the positive effects and protect the stated values? This resulted in a list of dozens of measures and preconditions that provide us with important starting points for further research. For example, it has been stated that decentralized storage of vote imprints is essential to reduce abuse. We have to find out whether this is (technically) possible and what this requires of us. It has also been mentioned that you must supervise the providers of this technology, but how do you do that? What standards do you use to assess whether the technology is good and safe enough to use and how do you test this? And if you assume that no system is infallible, what risks does a user run, how do you limit the consequences and what does the unhappy flow look like? From a user perspective, it has been suggested that you should have a simple enrollment process to record your vote print without compromising on security and reliability.

Enrollment process

It is precisely the enrollment process that is the crux, because that is the moment when you check whether the person and voice print belong together. Can you design a process that offers sufficient certainty and yet is accessible enough for various target groups, including fewer digital skills? In short, food for thought and, above all, food for further research and experiments. In the coming period, we will be tackling this step by step, starting with the dilemma surrounding safety and ease of use.

Would you like to participate or know more?

Interested in what we do, would you like more information or would you like to think along with us? Please contact Jeroen Vonk. We are curious about insights on how often the same people call your organization. Voice ID only makes sense if people call your organization more often. 


Note: The following participated in the Moral Impac Analysis: Ministry of BZK, Volksbank, SVB, Privacy First, Waag, VodafoneZiggo, Innovalor, Hooghiemstra, Novum, Digicampus, ANBO, Seniorweb, Code4NL, Province of South Holland, ICTU, User Central, Tax Authorities, Municipality of The Hague, Land Registry, TU Delft, NFI, UTwente, Visio, RvIG and DUO, Logius.

Work with us on Voice ID

4 + 3 =

Share this article