A New Zealand man tried to renew his passport but encountered difficulties doing so. His photograph was rejected by an online photo checker which claimed that his eyes are closed in the photograph, when in fact they were not. This man of Asian origin has small eyes, and it seems that the software was seemingly insensitive to his Asian ancestry.

Richard Lee Passport
Image Source: Richard Lee/ Facebook

Denied passport because of eyes supposedly being closed

Richard Lee told Reuters, “No hard feelings on my part. I’ve always had very small eyes and facial recognition technology is relatively new and unsophisticated.”

In a Facebook post, the 22-year-old man narrated the incident. Lee specified the reason he was given by the Department of Internal Affairs for rejecting the face in the photo he submitted. It seemed from Lee’s post that he was more amused and less dismayed with the entire incident. He even used a Snapchat filter to slightly exaggerate his features, making his eyes much larger than normal to make the photo more robot-friendly.

“It was a robot, no hard feelings. I got my passport renewed in the end.”

It took very little time for this encounter with automated bureaucracy to spread across the internet. His passport was renewed, but the problem he encountered with the facial recognition software led many people to make nasty comments. Some claimed that technology was getting racist.

Facial recognition tech needs to be smarter

After the initial rejection, Lee submitted several more pictures, but all were rejected. He called to the Department of Internal Affairs to find out the problem. He was told that the error was taking place due to the shadows in his eyes and the uneven lighting on his face. Then he got some new pictures taken, and the issue was finally resolved.

Lee told The Daily Mail Australia, “Some people get offended way too easily because they’re not as confident with their origins. At the end of the day we’re all different and of course there are certain situations where you have to stick up and some situations it’s just a good laugh.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Internal Affairs said there are various reasons the photos uploaded for passport renewal were rejected. It happens almost 20% of the times. The most common error with photos is that the subjects’ eyes are supposedly closed. According to the spokesperson, the system was unable to explain the actual problems in Lee’s case, and hence, it generated a generic error message.