New Zealand Passport Robot Tells Applicant of Asian Descent to Open Eyes

Facial recognition software mistakenly registered his eyes as being closed.

By Reuters

Richard Lee/Handout via Reuters
A screenshot of New Zealand man Richard Lee's passport photo rejection notice, supplied to Reuters December 7, 2016.

This story originally appeared on Reuters

A New Zealand man of Asian descent had his passport photograph rejected when facial recognition software mistakenly registered his eyes as being closed.

Richard Lee's attempt to renew his passport was blocked after he submitted the picture to an online passport photo checker run by New Zealand's department of internal affairs.

The automated system told the 22-year-old engineering student the photo was invalid because his eyes were closed, even though they were clearly open, according to a copy of the notification posted on social media site Facebook.

"No hard feelings on my part, I've always had very small eyes and facial recognition technology is relatively new and unsophisticated," Lee told Reuters. "It was a robot, no hard feelings. I got my passport renewed in the end."

Up to 20 percent of passport photos submitted online are rejected for various reasons, an Internal Affairs spokesman said.

"The most common error is a subject's eyes being closed and that was the generic error message sent in this case," he said.

The lighting in Lee's first photo was uneven, but a later one was accepted, he added.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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