The system, built by former Telstra subsidiary KAZ and based on technology developed by both the Queensland University of Technology [QUT] and US voice recognition vendor Nuance, will allow Centrelink users to authenticate without needing to remember PINs and Passwords.
Customers opting into the service will have the unique signature of their voice recorded, alongside their choice of security questions.
The system then uses pattern recognition software to match any future calls against this voice print to verify the speaker's identity.
Centrelink project manager Ross Summerfield said the system, built at a cost of $2 million, is the first Government deployment of voice biometrics in Australia.
The agency, which employs 4,500 staff across 25 call centres and takes 28 million calls a year, has been piloting the technology for close to two years for a select group of customers.
It will now contact some 60,000 more clients to recommend use of the system.
"We have undertaken this venture quite methodically," Summerfield said. "We want to make sure the right person accesses the right information - as it could be particularly damaging if they didn't."
Summerfield said business process and privacy concerns took up as much time as technology trials.
"Plenty of private sector implementations have failed to get the call flow right - the process of how you handle people through the process," he said. "Get call flow right and you are on a winner."
Centrelink and several independent auditors have tested the system extensively to ensure it meets the agency's obligations around privacy.
A full Privacy Impact Assessment was prepared, led by Professor Roger Clarke, and the process included consultations with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and advocates such as The Australian Privacy Foundation, the UNSW-run Cyberlaw Policy Centre and Electronic Frontiers Australia.
"Privacy advocates were engaged during the planning for the system, just prior to the pilot and at the end of the pilot," Summerfield said.
Centrelink chose to invest in biometric voice technology as a "significant portion" of welfare seekers have difficulty remembering PIN numbers and passwords, he said.
"Your voice, on the other hand, is a credential you are unlikely to forget."
Read on to page two for the mechanics of the system and details of the agency's other speech recognition trials.